HOUSTON – Two years ago, quarterback Josh Johnson clearly outplayed his competition during the 49ers’ exhibition season.
Then, he received the bad news from Jim Harbaugh, the coach who recruited him out of Oakland Tech High School to the University of San Diego, a Football Championship Subdivision program.
For the first time in his life, Johnson found out he was being cut.
“It was really tough, to be quite honest,” Johnson said Thursday night after again making a strong case for a backup job with the 49ers.
“There were a lot of different emotions from looking at myself to 'What happened?' What was different from here and San Diego? Being cut for the first time. Being cut at home. Just a lot. There was a lot that went into it. When things aren’t right, the type of guy I am, I look within myself first. There were things, I felt like, I could’ve done that I didn’t do.”
Johnson was cut in favor of Scott Tolzien, who struggled during the exhibition season. Johnson ended up with Cleveland and Cincinnati the past two seasons. He appeared in a total of three games but did not attempt a pass.
Johnson, 28, is once again on the bubble for a roster spot to open his seventh NFL season. He said the experience of 2012 has reinforced in him a belief to do everything possible and, then, have no regrets.
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“As long as I can walk out with my head held high, and not live with any regrets, that’s the best I can do for myself," he said. "I feel like I’ve done that, and I’ve gotten better. Hopefully, the coaches keep taking notice of that.”
So what did Johnson learn from his experience in 2012?
“Overall, just being a better quarterback,” he said. “If I get one rep and it’s a handoff, make sure that one rep and that one handoff, the mechanics are everything they tell you to do. Just everything. Being on it all the time, 24-7. Never take anything for granted.”
Johnson wrapped up the exhibition season with a 14-for-17 passing game Thursday night against the Houston Texans. He threw for 135 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
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In four exhibition games, Johnson completed 75 percent of his pass attempts for 259 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating was 110.8, but he also lost two fumbles.
Blaine Gabbert, who entered camp as the No. 2 quarterback, completed 46.8 percent of his attempts for 189 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions during the exhibition season. His passer rating was 54.0.
Harbaugh said he would like the 49ers to keep three quarterbacks on the team. That decision will ultimately fall to general manager Trent Baalke, who has control over the 53-man roster.
As everyone discovered in 2012, Johnson does not get any special favors because of his long history with Harbaugh. Whatever happens, Johnson said he has benefited from the opportunity to have a second stint with Harbaugh and the 49ers.
“Jim pushes the envelope,” Johnson said. “He wants you to find out stuff about yourself that you don’t know. And (I) continue to find out more about myself as a player, as I continue to grow in this league. I’m happy just to be here and being coached, and an opportunity to get better every day. That’s what I ask for, and I appreciate that.”