Dontae Johnson enters his fourth training camp with the 49ers under his fourth head coach and fourth defensive coordinator. He’s also adjusting to new faces and personalities in the team’s front office. But the cornerback contends the upheaval he’s experienced each of the last three seasons is why he’s more prepared than ever to lock down a starting position this season.
“It sucks to say I’m used to it, unfortunately, but at the same time I understand,” Johnson told NBCSportsBayArea.com after a recent practice. “I’ve figured out how to pretty much cope with different things and cope with certain situations and new schemes and learning different things and that nature. It’s not as hard as it would be to most people.”
For Johnson, coping means “being locked into the now” and concerning himself only with the things he can control.
“My main focus this offseason was to make sure I was the best that I could be in any situation given whatever scheme or coaches we had here. Just put my best foot forward just because it is a new slate,” Johnson said. “Everything else will fall into place.”
The 25-year-old has made some eye-popping plays this week in camp including an over-the-back grab for an interception and a hit to break up a would-be touchdown. They’re the kind of plays that make one raise an eyebrow and wonder if the fourth-round draft pick may live up to the expectations that come with the speed and length packaged in his 6-foot-2 frame.
Johnson is currently running with the "ones" at right corner and lines up second in the defensive back drills behind assumed starting left corner, Rashard Robinson. With Keith Reaser missing time due to injury and rookie Ahkello Witherspoon having a tough week, (he was trucked on back-to-back days by Carlos Hyde and Vance McDonald) the starting role is there for Johnson’s taking. He’s not wasting the opportunity.
“Every practice is a game to me. Every play is just as important as the play that happened or the next play,” Johnson said. “Once that play is gone and it happens, it’s over with. I’m going to go on to the next play."
Johnson’s evident improvement comes down to confidence and know-how. He credits the veteran defensive backs he’s played with, being sure to mention former teammates Antoine Bethea, Perrish Cox, Chris Culliver, as being his most influential teachers.
“Watching them and playing my role in the past three years, I feel like I’ve taken all that knowledge and understanding and information and I’m able to put things together now,” Johnson said. “Being able to get in the playbook and understand where my help is, understand leverages and learn that from older guys and seeing that, has really helped me to slow the game down and understand where I can play aggressive and take a little more chances and make plays.”