In only his second season in the NFL, San Francisco 49ers CB Dontae Johnson is learning a new defense. After working with Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell, new defensive coordinator Eric Mangini has a different scheme.
Johnson said the defense is more aggressive than what he remembers last year, but said it’s an opportunity to help the team. He claims there is a better chance to make plays from interceptions to tipped passes.
Currently, Johnson is playing on the outside when there’s a nickel package while Tramaine Brock will move inside. He is behind on the depth chart which include Brock and Shareece Wright. Johnson is also competing with fellow 2014 draft pick Jimmie Ward, who was selected in the first round.
Mangini said the competition is wide open as he takes over the defense. While there are inherited players from last year, he was on the team’s offensive staff in an advisory role before coaching the tight ends in 2014.
“That whole group, there’s great opportunity for young players to have a chance to have a significant role on a defense,” Mangini said of the secondary on Sunday. “Often times, you come into a team and you got no shot and maybe you get some work as a nickel or you get a little bit in dime, things like that. These guys have a chance to distinguish themselves and really, we’re going to give them the opportunity to make a case for themselves, and whoever makes the strongest case is going to get that chance. We’ll give them all though that chance to do that.”
One of the bigger differences that Johnson has noticed is how Mangini’s scheme is not as passive. Last year the blitzing was minimal and depended on good press coverage from the corners. Execution becomes about what the mind does, rather than just running with an opposing receiver.
“Last year’s scheme was more so just playing,” Johnson said on Tuesday. “This year, it’s a little more thinking. I feel like the guys have really worked hard this offseason to understand the thinking, to understand the process of what Eric Mangini is trying to teach us. Honestly, we’re just continuing to grow each and every day with meetings and then practice. It’s coming along.”
Compared to 2014, Johnson said there will be more complex decisions to make on defense. The team hopes to get to the quarterback more often and believes this scheme is built to make the opposition uncomfortable.
“You can expect more things,” Johnson said. “Whether it be more blitzes, you know the ball has got to come out quick. The quarterback can’t hold the ball as long as he wants to. He’s got to diagnose different things, read coverages a lot faster. So this allows us to play more aggressive. It allows everybody on the field to play to their strengths and be able to make plays when presented to them.”