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  • John Sleezer The Kansas City (Mo.) Star Corey Lemonier, right, wraps up Alex Smith in the preseason. Lemonier will see time Thursday.

  • Marcio Jose Sanchez / The Associated Press

    The absence of Aldon Smith has left a huge hole in the 49ers' defense. Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier will fill in.

Unsung 49er Skuta will get his shot at linebacker

Published: Wednesday, Sep. 25, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013 - 5:48 pm

SANTA CLARA – Every 49ers player has a laminated picture of himself in high school pasted to the top of his locker that lists how he was ranked by various scouting services at the time. Dan Skuta's doesn't offer much information.

• National ranking: Ranking not found.

• National ranking by position: Ranking not found.

• State ranking: Ranking not found.

• Rating: Ranking not found.

But the picture does have some use. It gives Skuta, 27, motivation every time he looks at it.

"That's always going to be with me," Skuta said of the chip he carries on his shoulder. "Nothing's ever going to come easy. I'm just going to play through it and do the best job I can."

The 49ers linebacker, who grew up in Flint, Mich., wasn't offered scholarships by big-time college programs, and he played at Division II Grand Valley State instead. He went undrafted in 2009, eventually catching on with the Cincinnati Bengals. When he signed a free-agent contract with the 49ers in March, the transaction received little attention.

This week, however, Skuta's name is suddenly significant because he will be one of the two players filling in for the 49ers' best pass rusher, Aldon Smith, as Smith seeks treatment following his second DUI arrest in as many years.

Rookie Corey Lemonier, a third-round draft pick out of Auburn, also will figure into the mix at outside linebacker. How much acclaim has Lemonier – pronounced, Lemon-YAY – received so far this season?

Coach Jim Harbaugh has been saying the rookie's name as "Lemon-EAR," just as he did Monday. "I have confidence in those guys and know they'll do a good job," Harbaugh said of Skuta and Lemonier.

They, along with left outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, have the task of trying to reproduce Smith's pass rush and sack production. Smith had 19 1/2 sacks last year, which set a 49ers franchise record and led the NFC. San Francisco currently has seven sacks, which ties for 19th in the NFL. Half of them have come from Smith.

At one point this offseason, the 49ers had so many quality outside linebackers, they put two of them on the trading block. The team sent veteran Parys Haralson, who began the offseason as Smith's backup at right outside linebacker, to New Orleans for a seventh-round pick in the upcoming draft.

They also dealt 2012 draft pick Cam Johnson to Indianapolis for a seventh-round pick.

Skuta, meanwhile, hasn't started a game at outside linebacker.

When the 49ers signed him, the thought was that he would be a linchpin of their special-teams coverage units and, if need be, he could fill in as an inside linebacker, the position he mostly played in Cincinnati.

But defensive coordinator Vic Fangio looked at Skuta's body type, 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, and felt he'd be better off on the outside.

The decision looked like a smart one in the exhibition season, the last time Skuta saw any repetitions on defense. He finished the preseason with three sacks and 13 tackles. Lemonier had two sacks and five tackles, and the 49ers concluded that Haralson and Johnson were expendable.

Smith was the seventh overall pick in the draft two years ago, has long powerful arms, a nonstop motor and has developed crucial chemistry with right defensive end Justin Smith in recent seasons.

Skuta's advantage?

It might be that no one knows who he is, something he's reminded of every time he looks at himself on the top of his locker.

"(High school player scouts) didn't know anything about me," he said. "Still don't, probably."

THURSDAY'S GAME

49ERS AT ST. LOUIS

• Time: 5:25 p.m.

• TV/radio: NFL, 810, 1320

Read Matthew Barrows' blogs at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Matthew Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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