SANTA CLARA — During the San Francisco 49ers’ bye week, Justin Skule used some rare time away from the field to go site seeing. It’s something the Clifton, Va. native hasn’t gotten to do since his recent promotion to starting left tackle.
“We just had a couple of days,” Skule said. “Didn’t want to travel too far or do anything crazy … A lot of work to do around here.”
Skule couldn’t afford to take much time away from film study. In Week 3, in the second start of his NFL career, he’ll face one of the best pass rushers in the league in the Cleveland Browns’ Myles Garrett on Monday night. The last time Skule saw Garrett — who’s been labeled a generational talent — he was just a freshman at Vanderbilt, and didn’t even see the field.
“He’s a great player,” Skule said. “He’s a great pass rusher. He’s a strong guy, long guy. He plays hard.”
During his time at Texas A&M, Garrett built his reputation by terrorizing offensive tackles. With 141 stops, 31 sacks and seven forced fumbles, Garrett earned All-America honors in 2015 and 2016. While Skule didn’t face him directly, he faced no shortage of dynamic edge rushers playing in the SEC. It’s partly why the 49ers drafted him.
“I played [Broncos defensive end] Bradley Chubb in a bowl game,” Skule said. “And then [Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end] Josh Allen this past year for Kentucky and there’s obviously a bunch of other guys, too.”
Garrett, though, is a cut above.
“He’s a special player just from a talent standpoint and he’s getting better at football every single day,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said of Garrett. “I watched him a lot in college, watched him a little bit last year and then watched him a ton over the last week. He’s exactly what I think everyone thought he was going to be.”
Before Skule’s first start two weeks ago against Pittsburgh, the injured Joe Staley — who is expected to miss at least another six weeks with a broken fibula — invited the rookie over to his house to share his study habits and preparation methods.
“It was awesome. Joe has been great,” Skule said. “He’s kind of taken me under his wing and so being able to go over there and just one-on-one having him teach me about his process and how he breaks down film, it was awesome.”
Skule received praise from Shanahan, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and from Staley himself for his play against the Steelers. Staley made sure to text the 22-year-old after the game.
According to Skule, Staley has also been breaking down his practices, texting him about techniques to improve on throughout the day. This type of assistance has been invaluable for Skule, who says Staley has been “extremely helpful” since he got to San Francisco.
Mike McGlinchey, who was in Skule’s position just a year ago as a rookie thrust into a starting role, has also been able to provide his knowledge and experience for Skule.
Last year, McGlinchey sometimes struggled with the pass rushers he faced, which he’s trying to help Skule avoid as he progresses through the season.
“Mike McGlinchey told me that Myles Garrett’s name carries some weight. [But] you can’t worry about the name on the back of the jersey,” Skule said. “Every player is a good player in this league and so you can’t psych yourself out for who you’re going against.”
Skule also acknowledged the fact that Monday will be the one of, if not the, highest-profile games he’s played in during his football career. The only games that compare, in his mind, are a road loss to No. 5 Notre Dame in 2018 and another road loss to No. 9 Auburn in 2016.
On top of playing in front of a national audience on Monday, Skule and the 49ers will attempt to earn a 4-0 record for the first time since 1990 and stay atop the NFC West division. This is all bundled with the immediate challenge of Garrett, who Skule says he’s ready to face.
“Myles Garrett is a phenomenal football player but you play phenomenal players every week,” Skule said. “I don’t know if I’d say I’d do anything different. Just prepare as much as I can and get ready to play.”