As a great deal of the 49ers defense retired or fled San Francisco this offseason, Dan Skuta snatched a raise and relocated to Jacksonville. The Jaguars scooped up Skuta and paid him $20 million to add length to their linebacker/special teams groups.
Skuta joined the Bengals in 2009 as an UDFA, never quite finding his niche. Skuta saw snaps at LB, FB, and TE but didn’t make much of an NFL impression until he joined the 49ers. In San Fran, Skuta played the SAM role in the 49ers 3-4 defensive front. This should be similar to the OTTO position Skuta sees as a Jaguar.
In 10 starts last season, Skuta grabbed 5 sacks while making his presence known against the run. Skuta wasn’t a feature player by any criterions. Instead, he found breaks in injuries to a beefed up LB core and played productively when he was given opportunities. At his strong-side position, Skuta provided sturdy run support while occasionally dropping into coverage to protect short zones.
In Gus Bradley's hybrid 46 scheme, Skuta will sit on the line of scrimmage quite a bit. This is pretty much the same station Skuta held in San Francisco. A lot of people like to compare this LB concept to a DE, though I like to relate the position to a strong safety. The OTTO wears a different hat for each different situation he uncovers.
Perhaps the most basic (though not the main) situation is pass rush. In the play below, Skuta gets after Phillip Rivers.
Above, Skuta (circled in red) lines up with his ears pinned back. There's an empty backfield and no TE, which narrows Skuta's assignments down to one - rip the bolo off of Rivers.
Skuta shoots around the edge. The LT handles the initial surge. Rivers winds up to throw, but brings the ball back down.
Skuta overruns, forcing the QB out left. Skuta recognizes the escape immediately and shifts to disengage from the LT.
Skuta pursues his kill.
Sack. Fumble. Kill.
Pass rush, however, is not the foundation of the OTTO position. Skuta grabbed 5 sacks last season, many in a manner that mirrored the scenario above. Still, run support will be will Skuta makes his money.
Below, Skuta lines up over the slot.
Skuta is matched up with WR John Brown. The focus of the play, however, is on Fitzgerald lined up outside (circled in orange).
Fitz sets in motion. Skuta shadows him, sniffing out the play.
The ball is snapped. It's a quick pitch to the RB. Skuta catches Fitzgerald's release, breaking inside before the LT can step out in front. John Brown, Skuta's original slot cover, is now ineffective as well.
Skuta pulls the RB down with one hand. 4 yard loss.
There's also a certain discipline within the OTTO position that must be embraced. Staying in position and "doing your job" is a cliche that fits no other area of the field better than the SAM or OTTO.
In another run play below, Skuta readjusts to contest a sweep play. This isn't an archetypal sweep, though.
Skuta lines up in slot over the speedy Tavon Austin. Austin is going to sweep behind the play for the toss.
Austin sets off right before the snap.
Skuta chases Austin inside, but doesn't over-pursue. Austin collects the pigskin.
Rams TE Lance Kendricks (yellow) breaks left. Tavon Austin reverses route. The endzone view reveals more below.
Austin suddenly turns to break out to his left. Lance Kendricks is crossing formation to become Austin's lead blocker. Skuta, having never abandoned his station, is still in position to set the edge.
Skuta kicks way out and Kendricks picks up the block. This is crucial, because it forces Austin inside. Austin can't grab the edge.
Tavon Austin is held to 6 yards as the 49ers defense collapses on him. Skuta bars a huge play from unfolding.
The Jaguars finished 27th in rushing defense last season. The addition of Skuta and Odrick should layer the edge defense, providing a stiffer barricade against the run. Hopeful this helps bring down the atrocious average of 128 rushing yards allowed per game that the Jags saw in 2014.
And while stuffing the run is always a great concept to solidify, a back could always break off as a receiver. Skuta will see several coverage responsibilities as an OTTO. In the past, Skuta's primary responsibilities in standard zone schemes consisted of dropping back into shorts zone to cover RBs and TEs underneath. For the most part, Skuta locked his zone down. In man-to-man situations, however, Skuta was inconsistent at best.
Below, Skuta lines up as the 5th man on the line.
There is no TE responsibility - yet.
Raiders FB, Reece, and the TE load the right side.
Skuta shifts. His new responsibility is Reece.
Reece get off of the line at the snap. It's a pass play. Skuta allows the FB to drive him way too deep. It is all too easy for Reece to plant and turn inside at this point.
Which is exactly what he does. Skuta gets driven into the shadows as Reece cuts underneath. Essentially, Skuta gets blacked out harder than Jags home games.
Reece picks up a chunk of yards and extends the ball for the first down. Skuta sits on his ass and claps out the rhythm to "Never Again" by Nickleback.
Skuta's coverage ability could be worse. Skuta does enjoy the speed and step to keep up with shiftier targets. Stability and firmness, however, he is lacking in. Skuta might be able to fine tune this shortcoming with more experience.
It's easy to decide where Skuta will make an impact on the field, but it's hard to assess the size of this impact. On film, Skuta seems to enjoy the versatility and discipline that the OTTO position demands. Combining Skuta's limited, but explosive, on-field film with his overall experience and special teams ability at least justifies this signing. The idea of what Skuta can become in Gus Bradley's defense goes further to support it.
Skuta's limited starting experience leaves many people wondering whether the $20 mil was spent on a specials teams warrior or someone capable of substantial contribution to the Jags' defense. On paper, Skuta fits the OTTO role almost perfectly. He can play. We'll see how he establishes himself this fall.
Adding depth the Jags' LB core can't be a bad thing, either. All that's left now is to see how the picture shakes out.