49ers attracted to Johnson's combination of size, speed

49ers attracted to Johnson's combination of size, speed
May 27, 2014, 11:00 am
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Dontae Johnson was drafted by the 49ers with the 29th pick of the fourth round, the 129th overall selection. (AP)

The first thing that stands out about 49ers rookie cornerback Dontae Johnson is, of course, his size.

He is 6 foot 2 1/8.

There was a lot of talk about tall cornerbacks in this draft class. Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska) and Pierre Desir (Lindenwood) received a lot of pre-draft buzz.

But the 49ers were not high on this draft class. Many of the good corners available in the draft lacked ideal size. And many of the corners with good size lacked speed.

Johnson was not a standout at North Carolina State, where he moved to cornerback for his final two seasons. He started every game as a senior and recorded 82 tackles and three interceptions.

In addition to his size, Johnson can also run. He clocked an official time 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine -- better than Jean-Baptiste (4.61) and Desir (4.59), both of whom were drafted ahead of him.

This week should be eye-opening for Johnson, who for the first time will attempt to run with the 49ers’ wide receivers. Organized team activities starts Tuesday, and it's the first time the 49ers veterans are allowed to take part in offense-vs.-defense drills.

“All those guys on the other side of the ball are great athletes, great competitors,” Johnson said. “It’s going to give me a chance to get better, whether it’s (Michael) Crabtree to Bruce Ellington, who just got here. All those guys are great guys, great competitors, great athletes, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Because of rules during the offseason program that bans contact during drills, Johnson will not get a chance to work on “press” technique. Defensive backs coach Ed Donatell has spent time with Johnson to build a foundation so that he’s ready to go when the pads go on during training camp.

“Coach Donatell has been working with me to get my mind ready for that transition to when we can start pressing and bumping around, working on the different techniques he wants me to work on,” he said.

In the meantime, while he’s playing “off” coverage almost exclusive, Johnson is taking mental reps for the time when he’s allowed to take advantage of his size. Johnson said he is spending time in the film room watching such NFL stars as Richard Sherman and Champ Bailey.

“(I’m) watching a few other corners from across the league, and just trying to simulate and see how they move and different body languages,” Johnson said. “My body type being a longer guy, I definitely tend to watch taller guys and pretty much model my game after that, technique wise.”