A 49ers team that finished second to last in the NFL in kickoff coverage last season signed a new, would-be special teams ace, Dan Skuta, today to a two-year deal. Skuta, a 250-pound inside linebacker, led the Bengals in special teams tackles in two of the last three seasons.
The 49ers had one of the best coverage units in the league in 2011, one that was led by energetic and charismatic Blake Costanzo. The 49ers, however, allowed Costanzo to sign with the Bears in free agency a year ago, and their 2012 special teams units weren't the same.
They surrendered an average of 26.9 yards per kickoff - only the Raiders were worse - in the regular season. That number doesn't include the postseason, which was marked by a Super Bowl record 108-yard touchdown return by Ravens returner Jacoby Jones to open the second half.
Some of the team's struggles can be attributed to kicker David Akers' relative flat kickoffs, which gave returners extra time to build up speed. Akers dealt with a sports hernia during the second half of the season and had a procedure last month. Two special teams players, inside linebackers Larry Grant and Tavares Gooden, also are free agents.
Skuta was one of three free agents the 49ers hosted Thursday. The group included ex Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who left the team facility without a deal but who could sign one Friday. The former Cal star hit the open market this week after being cut by the Eagles. Asomugha was the biggest catch in the 2011 free-agent period, and Philadelphia landed him that year with a five-year, $60 million deal. That contract, however, became far too unwieldy, especially after Asomugha, 31, failed to play to expectations.
After struggling to contain Atlanta receiver Julio Jones and Baltimore's Anquan Boldin in the postseason, the 49ers entered free agency in search of tall, physical cornerbacks who could stifle big-bodied receivers. The long-limbed, 6-2 Asomugha was perhaps the league's best cornerback when he played press coverage for the Raiders, but he had trouble in the Eagles' more diverse, zone schemes.
San Francisco showed interest in Asomugha when he was a free agent two years ago. However, he never visited 49ers headquarters like he did on Thursday afternoon. It was his first free-agent visit this offseason, which usually indicates mutual interest between team and player.
San Francisco would be a better fit for Asomugha than Philadelphia, and the expectations - as well as the price tag -- would be considerably lower. The 49ers play sides when it comes to their cornerbacks -- one either plays on the left or right side and doesn't switch during the game. They also like to play press coverage, although there are plenty of the zone schemes that seemed to vex Asomugha in Philadelphia.
The 49ers also had shown interest in 6-3 free-agent cornerback Sean Smith, who signed a three-year, $18 million deal with the Chiefs on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the 49ers are considering a couple of older, veteran safeties, Charles Woodson and Ed Reed, but on Thursday met with Louis Delmas, who is 25.
He was the 33rd pick in the 2009 draft by the Lions and played immediately. Delmas started 15 games as a rookie, finishing second on the team with 94 tackles, breaking up eight passes and coming down with two interceptions. He's never been able to duplicate those numbers, however, mainly because he's been injured.
Delmas missed 13 games in the last two seasons with knee injuries. In 2011, he suffered a partially torn ACL, and last year he dealt with tendonitis in his left knee.
On Wednesday the 49ers hosted Woodson, 36, and they had tentative plans to visit with Ravens free agent Reed. Woodson left without a contract and Jim Harbaugh on Thursday said the team was "still evaluating" the former Raider and Packers defensive back. Reed, meanwhile, is expected to sign a deal with the Texans Friday.
-- Matt Barrows