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Dan Skuta Aims for 10-sack Seasons, Pro Bowls

On the Monday that San Francisco 49ers players left team headquarters last week, general manager Trent Baalke made something clear.

He needs his veterans to speak up.

"He wants players to be vocal about things they'd like to see," outside linebacker Dan Skuta said. "Me being a part of that group – and I want to be a leader on the team – I think that's my responsibility to say something."

There are a two things in particular that Skuta said he would tell Baalke on his way out of the door and toward free agency.

He has found his position on the football field.

As a full-time outside linebacker for a second straight season, Skuta recorded five sacks, the same amount as defensive tackle Justin Smith.

"I was getting close last year; I was a step away from four or five sacks last year," he said. "I guess that shows you that I got better and that I got that extra step this year.

"Next year, I need another (step), get up the 10-(sack total). I want to be recognized as a Pro Bowl-type guy, so that's what you got to do to get to that point."

Skuta, of course, played his first four NFL seasons as an inside 'backer for the Cincinnati Bengals.

"I came here thinking I was going to be inside," said Skuta, who signed a two-year free agent contract with the 49ers entering the 2013 season. "Watching NaVorro (Bowman) and Pat(rick Willis) play man coverage, I was kind of like, 'I don't know if (can) do that like that."

The Grand Valley State product credited his success on the outside to playing experience, which has improved his instincts when it comes to "feeling the pass-rush" combo of an opposing offense. 

Skuta also thanked defensive coordinator Vic Fangio for putting him at the "OLB" spot originally.

"I was really fortunate that Vic saw that in me, to put me outside, and fortunate that he had the trust to play me last year and throughout this year," number 51 said. "Wherever someone puts me, that's where I'm going to play. But (outside) is where I want to play."

His decision to return or sign elsewhere will be affected by the team's head coaching choice.

"I've never left a team without knowing what the coaching staff is going to be," Skuta said, "so it's new to me."

Given Skuta's age, 28, and 2014 production, he will have his suitors when other teams are allowed to negotiate with him on March 7.

How much will the 49ers head coaching search affect his desire to return to San Francisco?

"It's going to be a big deal to me," he said.

Fangio has been reported as a candidate for the job, and Skuta said he'd go to bat for his coach.

After all, the longtime play-caller led a 49ers defense ranked third in the NFC for yards allowed per game (321.4) despite Bowman and Willis making a combined six starts in '14.

"It reflects well on him and his system and how guys can get plugged in play," Skuta said. "The sky is the limit with our defense with what we can do when everyone stays healthy. I'm excited to see that."

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