GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Whether Marvin Lewis is talking to the lowliest employee or the franchise quarterback, or he's doing a little impromptu greenskeeping himself on the practice field, he'll always slip in a "The more you can do."
So Dan Skuta's move from linebacker to blocking fullback didn't just fall off Lewis' board Tuesday morning and show up on the Georgetown College practice field Tuesday afternoon.
After his 33.5 career sacks while playing primarily defensive tackle at Grand Valley State placed Skuta third in Division II history, the Bengals went north to the Allendale, Mich., campus to work him out as a fullback and linebacker before the 2009 draft. They had a few packages for him as a fullback up there but they only used it in a game once or twice. Running backs coach Jim Anderson felt Skuta had a long way to go as a fullback but liked the intangibles and didn't mind when the Bengals signed him as a free agent after the draft.
"The thing about him is that he has the will to play and the will to hit," said Anderson after practice, admitting those are the two prerequisites to play blocking fullback in this scheme. "Danny is the kind of guy you tell, 'This is what I want you to do,' and he goes out and does it."
At the moment, it appears to be for a backup role with Fui Vakapuna sidelined with a shoulder injury and rookie free agent Joe Tronzo the only other fullback on the roster. If the coaches like what they see, it would allow them to keep just three tight ends (Reggie Kelly, Jermaine Gresham, Chase Coffman) and not four. If Skuta can back it up, the Bengals can still keep just one fullback and count Skuta as one of the seven linebackers.
It could always end up being more. It appears Vakapuna's shoulder injury is a fluid situation and he says the key is going to be how it responds in the next week or two when he comes back and starts hitting.
One thing that isn't fluid is Skuta's spot on this team. He's got this club made. He's one of special teams coach Darrin Simmons' core players, appearing on all four units and Simmons says, "He'd be on more if there were more. I love what he did last year. He's hungry. He really took it to heart when we say, 'It doesn't matter how you got here. It only matters what you do when you get here.' He's one of the toughest guys on the team."
What Skuta did last year after getting activated off the practice squad was play in the last eight games and still finished fifth in special-teams tackles with 10. He also played both SAM and middle linebacker as well as a rush end. Not bad for a guy that not only played mainly tackle in college and dabbled at safety once in awhile.
But he's going to stay close to Bengals linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald.
"Any chance I get I'm going to try and get in there with Coach Fitz and keep trying to learn from him," Skuta said. "It's been great the last year. I played defensive tackle in college and Coach Fitz worked with me hard and I'm starting to turn into a decent linebacker. I'm definitely going to stay up with him because I've learned a lot up to now."
How long he's going to be away from the defense remains to be seen, but Skuta indicated it's going to be for a couple of weeks and in between he'll catch snatches of time with the defense when he gets a chance. For the last week or so he's been meeting with the offense and even Vakapuna said, "He asked a few questions in warmups but he knows where to line up."
"I've got a lot of catching up to do," Skuta said. "It's a good thing it was this year because I was finally getting a hold on the defense pretty well. I don't have it down by any means, but now I have a better grasp and I can kind of focus on offense and it won't mess up things too much on defense because I do understand it and that helps."
Skuta says he's already got a feel for the offense because he's worked against it every day, but he didn't know the names of the plays. But it's more than names.
"It's just understanding the plays and understanding what my responsibilities are," he said. "I'm sure a lot of things will come up, but as of right now that's been the only thing."
He was more a running fullback in the option at Carman-Ainsworth High School in Flint, Mich., when he racked up 1,092 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior, "but I blocked a little bit," he said. "If that translates at all, probably not much. But that wouldn't be bad."
Assistant linebackers coach Paul Guenther also works with Skuta on special teams, so you don't have to sell Guenther on his toughness. Or anything else for the matter.
"Yeah, he's tough. Real tough. He's from Flint," Guenther said. "He's a smart kid. He'll do anything you ask him. He's very coachable. If anybody can do it, it's him. He's good-spirited about it. Like Marvin says, 'the more you can do.' I think he's got a good feel for what we're doing on defense. If he can help out our offense in certain situations, why not?"
Skuta's helmet has been digging into the bridge of his nose all camp, leaving a raw square of dried blood. He knew he needed to get a new helmet or at least get the old one adjusted but there have been more important things to think about and he just kept wiping the blood off on the sidelines.
Until Bengals president Mike Brown told him to get a new helmet, so he not only had a new number Tuesday (47) but a new hat.
Skuta finished the sentence, "When the owner tells you to get a new helmet," with "you get a new helmet."
Former Ohio State linebacker Mike Vrabel is the patron saint of two-way players in this era. He's caught nine touchdown passes as a tight end on the goal line and while Skuta is there to block, he smiled, the new blood on his nose seeping red.
"I wouldn't mind being put in with somebody like that," Skuta said. "He got to score a couple of touchdowns, so it's all good."