San Francisco 49ers

Underdog: Shayne Skov's best route to a roster spot

The 49ers have the best inside-linebacker tandem in the game, they drafted an inside linebacker last year and they took one in the third round this year. The middle of their defense runneth over with linebackers, and still Shayne Skov chose the 49ers from the list of teams vying for him.

It was a curious choice. That Skov wasn't drafted automatically makes him a dark horse to land a roster spot. He becomes an even greater one given the depth at the position he plays.

Inside linebacker:

*Shoe-ins: NaVorro Bowman (PUP initially), Patrick Willis

*Looking good: Chris Borland*, Michael Wilhoite

*Fighting for a spot: Blake Costanzo, Nick Moody, Shayne Skov

It’s hard to see Skov -- barring injuries -- beating out either Michael Wilhoite, the 49ers’ most experienced backup, or draft pick Chris Borland. Even if he's better than Borland in the preseason, Borland’s third-round status gives him a cloak of invincibility for this year.

Skov’s best route to a roster spot is to outplay Nick Moody, a sixth-round pick last year, and to establish himself as a force on special teams. He might have to convince coaches he's a younger version of Blake Costanzo, 30, an inside linebacker who has established a reputation as someone who can renovate a team’s coverage units and who did so with the 49ers in 2011.

Skov certainly has the requisite personality. He’s smart, gregarious and when he puts a helmet on, he teems with energy. He also has a chip on his shoulder after falling through the draft. That largely had to do with the knee injury he suffered in 2012 and with a perceived lack of speed after running a 5.1 second 40-yard dash before the draft on a bad hamstring.

He's not a speed demon, but he's certainly not that slow, either. Skov said his true 40 speed is in the 4.8-second range. By comparison, Borland ran a 4.83-second 40 at the scouting combine.

Skov said he chose the 49ers because “there was a genuine desire from the coaching staff for me to be here.” Of course, coaches show that devotion to every player they are trying to land in the desperate, car-salesman hours after the draft. Still, Skov has a background with the man who will have the biggest say when determining the final roster on defense, coordinator Vic Fangio.

During Fangio’s final game at Stanford, the 2011 Orange Bowl win, Skov looked like one of the best young inside linebackers in the nation. He finished that game with 12 tackles, three sacks and broke up a pass.

Fangio knows Skov has that potential. He’s seen it. Which makes his one-time pupil an interesting underdog this summer.

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