Paul Guenther: "Neck And Neck" Battle At Outside Linebacker

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 1: Darren Evans #32 of the Indianapolis Colts runs into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter through the grasp of Dan Skuta #51 of the Cincinnati Bengals during an NFL preseason game against at Paul Brown Stadium on September 1, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Colts won 17-13. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Last year, the Bengals signed former 49ers first round draft pick, Manny Lawson, as their starting outside linebacker. This decision was made after the coaching staff moved Rey Maualuga to his natural position in the middle. Lawson, though somewhat of a rotational player in 2011, did well at strong side linebacker and was re-signed this offseason to a one-year deal to once again man that position on defense.

Dan Skuta has had the polar opposite of an NFL career than that of Lawson. He was an undrafted player out of Grand Valley State and had to work his way onto the club through special teams duty. Finally,, after biding his time, Skuta got some playing time at middle linebacker in 2011 after Maualuga went down with an ankle injury and performed well as a spot starter. He was retained by the Bengals as an exclusive rights free agent this year.

He has continued to make progress this offseason and new linebackers coach, Paul Guenther, has taken notice. Speaking with Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, Guenther said that Skuta is making quite the push for the starting outside linebacker position.

Plus there are two established SAM backers in front of Moch and after Wednesday's practice linebackers coach Paul Guenther said incumbent Manny Lawson and backup Dan Skuta are virtually neck-and-neck for the starting SAM spot.

"I think it's close. Skuta is having a great spring," Guenther said. "He's played a lot of roles. He's played defensive end, he's played SAM, he's played the middle. He's played in the nickel. His goal is to start just as it is for Manny to keep his starting job."

Just another Bengals position battle for us to keep an eye on this year, right? We've said it time and time again here at Cincy Jungle, this coaching staff loves versatility and Skuta definitely brings that to the defense with his ability to play a number of spots. Skuta making a push for the starting gig is a feel-good story about an underdog getting his shot. If he's working hard and is the best man suited for the job, he should get it.

In all likelihood, though, we'll still be seeing Lawson line up as the starter with Skuta rotating in on various packages. Either way, one thing is certain: Skuta has played well enough this spring and summer to warrant more playing time--and not just on special teams.

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