Dontae Johnson on the 49ers’ defense: “Last year’s scheme was more so just playing. This year, it’s a little more thinking.”

SANTA CLARA – Second-year cornerback Dontae Johnson spoke in the 49ers’ auditorium Tuesday morning. Here are selected quotes.

Q: With the new defensive scheme, how much more aggressive are you guys supposed to play as cornerbacks?

JOHNSON: I guess you could say we’re playing more aggressive, but it’s putting us in better positions. Honestly giving the whole defense a better chance to make plays, make more plays, play at a high level and allow each player’s strengths to surface.

Q: It seems like you’re playing outside in the Nickel packages and Tramaine Brock goes inside. Is that usually how it goes?

JOHNSON: Yeah, for right now I’m strictly on the outside. If need be, I know Nickel.

Q: What do you see from NaVorro Bowman? Is he the guy in the middle of the huddle?

JOHNSON: Yeah, absolutely. Last year, whoever was calling out plays commanded the huddle, whether it was Pat (Willis) to Michael Wilhoite to NaVorro Bowman this year. We always look at that person to take charge and take command of the huddle because they’re calling the plays.

ME: In what ways is this year’s defense different than last year’s defense schematically?

JOHNSON: It’s different. Two different guys. Two different schemes. Last year’s scheme was more so just playing. 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.

Q: How does the new defense allow you to be more aggressive?

JOHNSON: You can expect more things, 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.

This article has 60 Comments

  1. Most of the discussions I’ve seen regarding the huddle focus on the offense. Do the defensive huddles function in a similar way? So, is Mangini or someone relaying the defensive calls to Bowman and then he calls the defensive alignment in the huddle?

    1. Not sure if I like D.Johnson coming out saying this defence will blitz more,He’s a second year player who should avoid telling anyone what the defence is or isn’t going to do

  2. I know the “extra thinking” part gets people excited, but is it really that big of a deal? I’m aware that more thinking can cause more breakdowns, but don’t they have smart players? Can’t guys like Reid and Bethea handle, as Johnson said, a little more thinking?

    1. Hopefully as the season progresses the new defensive philosophy will be more ingrained and the players will be able to think less and play fast.

  3. Look at you testing the waters with a scheme question and he almost answered it. At least you didn’t get the “We dont discuss scheme,” shut down.

        1. Lack of confidence, immaturity, chip on his shoulder that has caused him anxiety. CK just needs to relax and play football and not be such a tight wad!

          1. If anything it’s probably the third one: chip on the shoulder. That and I think he really wants to play well and when he doesn’t, it seems like he tends to let that linger into other facets, like pressers.

            1. I would say that the chip on his shoulder was in part put there as in chip off the old block. Harbaugh treated such questions in a similar guarded and chippy way. It will be interesting to see if CK models after an apparently more open head coach and coordinator.

          2. Kaep needs to show more leadership. If a questioner can fluster him, what about a 290 lb DE?

        2. Maybe because he is a QB, and additionally, he doesn’t trust the press. I can’t imagine why.

      1. Speaking of scheme, are the 49ers still lining up in a straight 2-gap 3-4 like they did in minicamp?

          1. I’m surprised. Tomsula said during the annual coaches meetings the 49ers were keeping the same defensive fronts . I guess what he meant was they are keeping the same basic defensive fronts.

            Justin’s departure might have something to do with it. Dail, Armstead, TJE, Okoye have length. Maybe that helps when it comes to 2-gapping.

            1. Brodie, its worth noting the 49ers did use these fronts when in base previously, too. They just occasionally interspersed it with other fronts, such as an under front.

              In nickel it has been reported they are sticking with the 4-man front, which I assume is still primarily an under front with Tank as a 3T at RDT, and the LDT as a 1T.

    1. From the practice footage and interviews, the cats out of the bag when it comes to more ZBS concepts.

  4. Im skeptical of change just for the sake of change. If there was one thing that worked last season it was our Defense. Players played it well because it wasn’t complicated. It was simple and effective. It was the reason why we could take a backup and fill him into the starting lineup without missing a hitch. Throwing all that away for exotic schemes does not bring optimism..well neither did the Tomsula hire for that matter..

    1. Yet they lost Cowboy, Aldon, RM, Willis, Cox and Cully. More than half the defense.
      It is logical to assume they should strategize to play to the strengths of the new players.

  5. “Last year’s scheme was more so just playing. This year, it’s a little more thinking” is good as long as the thinking isn’t making them play slower.

    1. I can only assume by more thinking he means their responsibilities can change based on what is happening around them more, as compared to last year where their role on any given play was pretty well defined… Grant (or anyone else), does that ring true?

      1. Just like the 3-4 disguises the rush, Mangini has the interchangeable personnel to play a third safety rather than a third CB in nickel with the addition of Ward/Tartt. If your SS and Nickel Corner are interchangeable in Cover-2, you have uniformity which you can use to disguise coverages….

        1. But even so, while that makes it more complex for the offense to read, in and of itself shouldn’t make it any harder on the D players in terms of “thinking”. What is it they are doing that makes it so much more complex for the D to know their assignments?

          1. After Jauron took over for Mangini, the theme was, ‘think less, play faster’. “….we’ll be able to play a lot faster because there’s a lot less to think about,” said Haden.

            1. Yeah, there is no doubt that Mangini’s D does require more thinking. I’m just not sure exactly what it is that entails… as I said, I assume it is because the players’ responsibilities/ assignments on a play can change based on what is happening around them, so they need to think about what is happening then react more than in a simple D that just gives them simple assignments so they have to do less reading of the play before reacting.

              1. Terminology and how the defense is called I imagine adds a higher learning curve, but the good news is this type of defense affords a higher ceiling when everyone is on the same page….

              2. Yeah for sure. My (limited) understanding is that when everyone is on the same page, the flexibility that is in-built in the defensive plays should make it very hard for an O on any play, no matter what is called.

              3. Exactly Scooter, flexibility of personnel is the key to the defensive engine. Every position has to have players with an element of versatility to their respective games….

        2. Also been hearing about Manigni using Reid more aggressively. The D might not know who’s coming at them… Reid or Tartt. (assuming Bethea sticks to strong safety)

          1. From the sounds of it they have been doing that without the extra safety on the field. I assume that would mean they aren’t playing cover-2, at least not on those plays.

            The report I read, which I assume is the same report you mention, suggested Reid has been blitzing and coming up and playing almost like a LB quite a bit.

            1. If they’re running a loaded zone from the 46, that could get real intricate because you really can’t disguise your coverage out of it, as it’s usually cover zero or man free….

    2. I don’t remember the number of times, over the past decades, I’ve heard a coach say after there was an improvement in play, “We simplified some things, and the guys are just playing now.”

  6. For anyone that is really concerned about the 49ers implementing a system that requires more “thinking”, it is worth noting that Romeo Crennel, one of the best DCs in the NFL that consistently has a good D (and a guy Mangini learnt from) implements a similar “thinking” system. As does Belichick, whom both Crennel and Mangini learnt from.

    The main thing is you need to have smart players on D to implement the system, especially in the secondary.

    1. Yea, I pointed that out months ago regarding Belichicks’ Fairbanks-Bullough Read and React defense, which originated from the old 52 defense. I think we had a brief discussion about it when I brought up the fact that Mangini is going to need smart football players to execute his system. The defensive backs in this defense only need to play man to man 30% of the time and zone about 70%….

      1. Could be one reason why Dontae Johnson is getting first crack at the nickel role. He’s meant to be a smart dude.

    1. Also off topic, but I just need to complain about the CSN website. that thing friggin sucks. I love MM’s reporting but I quit going to that website a long time ago and this just reminded me why. autoplay videos and fullscreen pop-ups….its dog spit. And the comment section is wacko too.

    1. That’s the first I’d heard he had a lower back injury as well. Helps explain why he is a bit out of shape – back injuries can really limit what you can do. Hopefully it doesn’t become a chronic issue.

      1. They’ve only been reporting that he hurt is back in off season workouts in the past few days. There may still be some controls on the depth of player injury information that is volunteered by the team.

      2. I don’t expect any significant assistance from Lynch Mob until late September or early October….

        1. I suspect a heavy rotation opposite of Brooks, whether left or right. At least until someone takes hold of the position. If Harold proves to be a pass-rush specialist, we could see him coming in on passing downs, while Lemonier and Lynch rotate on other downs.

          I really hope Lynch gets it together and builds on last year, we really need him that’s for sure. The one silver lining has been the rejuvenated Brooks. I think he may put together one of his best years. Combine that with the depth at D-line, we should still produce a front 7 that just wreaks havoc on opposing offenses.

  7. Dontae states several times that they are going to play more to there strengths but no one was better at that than the previous coordinator, Fangio. I would suggest this is just the perceptions of a second year player. With a long reach for a cup half full, I might say that it is an out come of that feedback from players, that Tomsula has promised.

      1. I like the old Niner play that had the LB hold up the player and Ronnie Lott would hit him like a ton of bricks to dislodge the ball. They need to do it legally now, but the defense needs to cause more fumbles to help the offense.

  8. I am heartened to hear about the new defensive philosophy.
    To put the strategy in a war analogy. The old defense was like the Maginot line. It was massive and impregnable. The opposition totally negated that strength by running around it.
    This new defense will be able to react quickly and make the proper adjustments. It sounds like the built in flexibility will allow it to cover a variety of attacks.
    Maybe the best defense is a good offense, so an attacking defense will put the offense on their heels. More blitzing does not mean every play. It should be done unexpectedly and at the proper time.

  9. So this year we are now thinking? If any of my employees come up with this line, it will be me or my mgmt team tnat vomits spontaneously

  10. This is what I like to hear.

    Ryan Sakamoto @SakamotoRyan
    #49ers DE Tank Carradine continues to impress with his pass-rush as he sacked both Kaepernick and Gabbert in team drills.

    1. Also like hearing this.

      Ryan Sakamoto ‏@SakamotoRyan
      #49ers OLB Aaron Lynch looking better today in practice!

Comments are closed.