SAN DIEGO -- The trade that sent veteran outside linebacker Parys Haralson out of town this week might have opened the door for Cam Johnson to earn a roster spot.
And Johnson kicked the door off its hinges on Thursday night in the 49ers' exhibition finale -- a 41-6 victory over the San Diego Chargers. His performance was so impressive that even his teammates on offense could not help but notice.
[RECAP: 49ers 41, Chargers 6]
"He had a great game tonight," quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. "He played lights out. He had two sacks, a blocked punt and recovered it for a touchdown. You can't ask for anything more out of a defensive player."
The 49ers figured to keep five outside linebackers before the trade that sent Haralson to the New Orleans Saints for a seventh-round draft pick. And coach Jim Harbaugh pondered the question of whether Johnson can join starters Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, as well as backups Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier on the 53-man roster.
"Five total? Yeah, you could," Harbaugh said. "And it may happen. After tonight and the way Cam Johnson played, can you? Heck, yeah, you can. We're the San Francisco 49ers. We can do whatever we want when you have players who play like that."
Johnson, a seventh-round draft pick in 2012, spent most of last season on the practice squad before being promoted to the 53-man roster late in the season. He played just 11 snaps of defense during his rookie season.
Since the opening of training camp, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has often referenced Johnson as a player who has made a huge improvement from a year ago.
"I'm a lot more comfortable with the defense and the calls," Johnson said. "I don't have to think as much before the play. I can just get out there and play football."
He saw his most extensive playing time of the exhibition season on Thursday and recorded six tackles, including two sacks. Harbaugh said he was eager to re-watch Johnson's second sack.
"I want to look at that again, but with my eye on the field, that was a special type of play, just the way he submarined and (made a) clean hit," Harbaugh said. "Same with the blocked punt. He was competing. It was great to see. He's coming right along."
Johnson came off the right side against the block attempt of Jahleel Addae. Johnson stuck out his right hand to block Mike Scifres punt around the 15-yard line. He ran back into the end zone and fell on the ball for the touchdown. Johnson had two game balls in his locker afterward. And he figures to get another prize on Saturday when final cuts are announced.
"I know I do not have a solid spot on this roster," Johnson said. "I have been working hard this offseason to try to get a spot on the roster. I'm happy to finally see some positive things on the field and hope for me."