Shayne Skov made tackles on the sideline, in the offensive backfield and was in the middle of the 49ers’ gritty, seven-play goal-line stand at the end of the first quarter.
Skov may not have been his team’s MVP in Saturday’s exhibition opener in Houston, but he definitely won the iron-man award, logging a game-high 66 snaps. That alone is a monumental achievement for a linebacker who, at this point last season, still was getting up to speed after tearing multiple knee ligaments at Stanford in 2011.
“I felt fluid; I felt athletic,” Skov said of his performance Saturday. “I think I looked that way. Obviously, I’ve got a biased opinion. But if people go back and look at the film, in terms of my movement, it was as good as I’ve ever felt.”
Skov spent the early part of the offseason at California Strength in San Ramon, where a number of local NFL players work out and college stars prepare for the scouting combine. Skov figured he’d do the squats and clean lifts he’d been pumping out since high school.
Instead, California Strength owner Dave Spitz used a more nontraditional approach that first analyzed how Skov was moving and running.
Skov worked on his flexibility and smaller muscles in his legs, trading low-repetition lifts of major muscle groups for multiple reps of muscles he didn’t even know he had. He lost about 10 pounds after playing at 248 pounds last season.
“We take the barbells out of their hands,” Spitz said. “And I think Shayne benefited from that. He benefits from being a little lighter.”
I felt fluid; I felt athletic. I think I looked that way. Obviously, I’ve got a biased opinion. But if people go back and look at the film, in terms of my movement, it was as good as I’ve ever felt.
Shayne Skov on his performance in Saturday’s exhibition opener
Skov said he’s back to the low 240-pound range, but he’s redistributed his weight. He’s not as bulky in his upper body and has packed more muscle onto his lower body. He now resembles the active, aggressive sophomore who had 12 tackles and three sacks in the Orange Bowl to end the 2010 season.
“I think he looks different, not just from last training camp but even from the spring,” defensive coordinator Eric Mangini said Tuesday. “He’s had so much more work this year than he did last year. And that’s helped him significantly. I can’t say enough about his recall and his ability to self correct.”
A year ago, inside linebacker was the 49ers’ deepest position, and Skov was buried at the bottom. He started the season on the practice squad, was cut and joined Tampa Bay’s practice squad. The Buccaneers released him, too, and the 49ers re-signed him to the practice squad in mid-November.
Retirements and attrition have created more openings this year.
The starters are expected to be NaVorro Bowman and Michael Wilhoite or Nick Moody. Bowman, however, didn’t play Saturday, and coach Jim Tomsula has said he will wait to decide whether the veteran linebacker, also returning from a multi-ligament knee injury, will suit up Sunday against Dallas.
He’s had so much more work this year than he did last year. And that’s helped him significantly.
49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini on Shayne Skov
With Wilhoite, Nick Bellore, Desmond Bishop and Philip Wheeler also missing at least some training camp practices because of injuries, Skov and Moody have taken advantage of those absences.
Saturday’s game wasn’t perfect for Skov. He was overwhelmed by a Texans lineman on two long runs by tailback Alfred Blue in the first quarter. And he was flagged for a late hit in the third quarter. But he made eight total tackles, second to Moody’s nine. And as was the case at Stanford, he was regularly in the middle of the action.
In Tuesday’s practice, Skov had an interception and a brief scrap with a lineman blocking him on a pass rush.
“I wasn’t drafted. I’ll be battling until the day my career is over,” Skov said. “You have to have that mentality, whether you’re drafted or not, to stick around in this league. Every year is a new challenge, and they’re always looking for your replacement. I’m fighting, scratching and clawing, and so is every other guy in that room. There’s 90 of us, and there’ll be 53 soon enough.”