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Skuta, Lemonier Step in for Aldon Smith

Posted Sep 24, 2013

Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier are both in their first season with the 49ers, but one is a veteran ready for significant playing time.

Two hours before their afternoon practice on Tuesday, Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier were in the locker room and on their way to meetings. Lemonier, pointing to his iPad playbook, was asking Skuta about an alignment and whether it would be used only in the red zone or anywhere on the field. Anywhere, Skuta told him.

If the 49ers first-year linebacker looked like a veteran next to Lemonier, it’s because he is. Skuta played in 56 games over four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. San Francisco signed him to a one-year free agent contact in March.

And now he’s the team’s presumptive starter at outside linebacker.

“I’ve never thought of it as starting or not starting,” said Skuta, filling the spot this week vacated by Pro Bowler Aldon Smith, who will be absent from the team indefinitely. “If you’re in the game a lot, you’re playing a lot.”

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said he expected both Skuta and Lemonier, a pass rushing-oriented rookie from Auburn, to play extensively in the team’s Week 4 matchup, a Thursday night duel in St. Louis opposite the Rams. Skuta, more likely a base-downs ‘backer, is listed first on the unofficial depth chart.

That’s just fine by the Grand Valley State product. After high school in Flint, Mich., he only received a scholarship offer from the Division II school, which covered his tuition and books.

The placard above his locker serves as evidence of his low stock as a prospect. Per a Jim Harbaugh-instituted tradition, each player's stall is adorned with his college recruiting rankings in his home state and nationally. Skuta's says, "No Ranking Found" four times.

Undrafted into the NFL, he now wears the a wristband lettered “G-R-A-T-E-F-U-L” above his right glove hand.

Starting or not starting, he’s not taking a single play for granted.

“That’s always going to be with me,” he said of his mindset. “Nothing comes easy.”

Skuta’s transition to outside linebacker has seemed to, however. At 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, he said he and Fangio saw his body type fitting the mold more on the outside. He mainly played inside for the Bengals and didn't want to add too much weight this offseason, which would slow him down on special teams.

Now Skuta replaces Smith and will play on the opposite side of veteran Ahmad Brooks. Fangio said all three outside ‘backers, a group that also comprises the impressive Lemonier, are “interchangeable” side to side.

Skuta, of course, wouldn’t mind lining up offset of right defensive tackle Justin Smith, Aldson Smith’s typical playing partner.

“I’ve always paid attention to how they played together and they did a great job there together with all their communication and stunts and," Skuta said, "if we get that opportunity, I’d like to do that stuff.”

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