SANTA CLARA – Cornerback Dontae Johnson entered this season with six career starts in three full NFL seasons.
Now, midway through his fourth year in the league, Johnson feels like a seasoned veteran and a sage to his younger teammates.
“I’ve learned a lot in four seasons,” said Johnson, 25. “I try to continue to pass it on to the young guys. You’re forced to grow up in this league. I’ve been through it all. I’ve been through different coaches, different schemes and turnover, as far as players.
“At the end of the day, the organization has a vision and they’re going to get the right guys in here for that vision.”
Johnson has started the first nine games of the season – his final year under contract to the 49ers. It remains to be seen whether Johnson fits into the organization's vision for the future. General manager John Lynch will almost certainly attempt to upgrade the talent and dept at the cornerback position.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh recently described Johnson as a steady, reliable player.
“He plays it smart, he does,” Saleh said. “He does play smart. My evaluation of him so far is he’s been very consistent.”
Johnson said he is trying to focus on his job and not think about anything beyond the upcoming opponent.
“We’ll sit down, my agent and I, and the team will sit down after the season,” Johnson said. “We’re not focused on that right now. That’s been my focus each and every week. It hasn’t been on getting a new contract. It’s been a week-to-week basis of me going out there and trying to put my best foot forward.”
Johnson said he was “shocked” a week ago when he learned cornerback Rashard Robinson was traded to the New York Jets for a fifth-round draft pick. Robinson started the first seven games before losing his starting job to rookie Ahkello Witherspoon.
“No one is safe, including myself,” Johnson said. “But at the end of the day, the organization and the team and staff here expect everybody to carry themselves a certain way. When it’s all said and done, I’m here to do a job and do it to the best of my abilities.”
Johnson has played for four head coaches and four defensive coordinators in his four seasons in the league. He would like some stability, for sure, but he has also gained experience in dog years since entering as a fourth-round draft pick in 2014.
“It’s starting to hit me that I have to be an older guy and help the young guys, bring them along. Just give them knowledge,” Johnson said. “This is a serious game. Everybody wants to win. The profession and the business we’re in, it’s all about winning. I’m just trying to pass that along to the younger guys.
“I feel like I can do things better. Do the little things necessary or make a big play to give our team a chance to win the game. What I’m doing isn’t enough. We need to do things better. I need to do things better. That’s that, because we aren’t winning.”