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Dontae Johnson Continues Development as Slot Cornerback

Posted Dec 4, 2014

The San Francisco 49ers rookie fourth-round draft pick was on the roster bubble coming out of training camp. He's now one of the team's top cornerbacks.

Remember when Dontae Johnson was on the roster bubble?

The San Francisco 49ers fourth-round draft pick wasn't a lock to make the 53-man roster coming out of training camp. But after the young cornerback showed position versatility and special teams ability, Johnson made his way onto the 49ers.

Since then, Johnson has developed into an important cog in San Francisco's stingy defense. His impressive contributions include spot duty as a base cornerback in a Week 1 road win against the Dallas Cowboys. Johnson later was utilized as a dime cornerback in the first half of the regular season. In that role, he finished off a Week 6 road victory over the St. Louis Rams with a timely pick-six on his first career interception.

Johnson's latest, and perhaps greatest contribution, has been filling in for fellow rookie Jimmie Ward as San Francisco's slot cornerback. When Ward was placed on Injured Reserve last month, Johnson stepped into the key role.

"I’m used to playing in there," said Johnson, who stressed on Thursday that he played slot cornerback and safety at North Carolina State. "It’s nothing new really. It’s an opportunity for me to help. Whatever I can do to help the team win, that’s my contribution."

Beyond covering receivers in the slot, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has tapped into another strength of Johnson's game.


The 6-foot-2, 200-pound cornerback has been frequently blitzing from the slot.

"I definitely have to stay in the playbook and understand concepts," Johnson said of his added responsbility. "When a blitz is called in the gameplan, I have to execute.

"There’s one I let get away from me last week, but that’s over with."

The play Johnson referred to was a missed opportunity in last Thursday's 19-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Johnson had two chances to bring down Russell Wilson, and somehow, the former N.C. State quarterback and teammate of Johnson in 2010, slipped away and completed a 63-yard pass to tight end Tony Moeaki.

Johnson blitzed off of the right slot and appeared to have a free shot on Wilson. The Seahawks quarterback wisely spun away from the 49ers rookie and later ran past Johnson's second-effort attempt at a sack. Wilson's 63-yard dump-off pass set up a Seattle field goal.

"It was one of those things where you have to capitalize," Johnson said, trying to reconcile what happened seven days later. "I put my teammates in a bad situation after that. It was one of the big plays in the game. I just have to capitzalize on that play right there, and it possibly takes points off the scoreboard.

"It’s something to learn from."

Johnson will look to display his growth this week against the Oakland Raiders. He's expecting to match up with a number of wideouts, including veteran receiver James Jones.

The 1-on-1 battle is eagerly anticipated by the 49ers rookie. The same goes for his first "Battle of the Bay" encounter.

"It brings me back to when I was at N.C. State," Johnson said. "It feels like the big Chapel Hill-Raleigh rivalry that we had in football against North Carolina. It’s one of those things but at a higher level.

"It’s definitely something you want to prepare for and come out on top of."


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