After wearing 32 during his first three seasons with the Seahawks, Jeron Johnson has taken advantage of Marcus Trufant’s retirement to reclaim the number he wore at Boise State: 23.

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Jeron Johnson not only wore No. 23 at Boise State, he wore it out.

While starting 44 games during his four-season stay in Boise, Johnson was the Broncos’ leading tackler his final three seasons – with 98 in 2008; 91 in 2009; and 72 in 2010. Not bad for a guy who played middle linebacker – at 165 pounds – on his Dominguez High School team in Compton, Calif.

When Johnson joined the Seahawks as a rookie free-agent safety in 2011, however, his college number was taken – by cornerback Marcus Trufant, one of the better players in franchise history. So Johnson opted for the reverse: 32.

With Trufant announcing his retirement last month, Johnson has reclaimed the number he wore while compiling all those numbers at Boise State.

“When I first got to the league I wanted to keep wearing 23, but we had Trufant,” Johnson said Thursday after a session in the team’s offseason program at Virginia Mason Athletic Center. “Trufant had a great career here and I’m sure everybody is used to seeing him in the 23 making plays, so hopefully I can continue to make plays in the 23 and keep it going.”

Johnson wearing No. 23 did prompt a double-take or two during the team’s OTA practices on Tuesday and Wednesday. Trufant was 5 feet 11 and 197 pounds. Johnson is 5-10 and 212. So the wait-a-minute moments came early and often with Johnson working at strong safety with the No. 1 defense because Kam Chancellor is recovering from hip surgery.

Johnson wore No. 5 at Dominguez High, where he was San Gabriel Valley League Defensive MVP as senior on a team that also featured Richard Sherman, now an All-Pro cornerback with the Seahawks. When Johnson got to Boise State, No. 5 was taken. So he went for a number that totaled five – 2 plus 3 – and also because “I’m a big (Michael) Jordan fan, as well,” he said with a smile.

But how an undersized middle linebacker became a big-play safety at Boise State also comes with its own story. The Broncos were recruiting Marvin Johnson, a safety on the Dominguez High team. But when he committed to the University of Oregon, the Boise State coaching staff went back to the tape and that’s when Johnson jumped out – even if he was playing out of position for a player his size.

“Not too many schools wanted to give me a chance, and they wanted me to play weak-side linebacker,” Johnson said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be able to put on that kind of weight.”

Instead, Johnson switched positions and waited. And now he’s back in No. 23.

Henne right for role

Jaguars QB Chad Henne right fit at right time for quarterback dynamic

JACKSONVILLE – Jedd Fisch hadn’t thought about it, and that was OK.

Some things you don’t think about, or spend much time analyzing. Some things just “are,” and you got a “just-are” feeling this week listening to the Jaguars’ second-year offensive coordinator talk about the team’s quarterback situation.

“Why will this dynamic work?” Fisch was asked.

“Oh, wow,” Fisch replied with a smile.

This was early this week. It was hot, really hot, at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields, and in retrospect perhaps not the best time for broad-topic questions about “dynamics” and locker-room relationships and long-term roles.
It was also, of course, early in Week One of Jaguars 2014 organized team activities, and Fisch – entering his second season as the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator – was busy enough fitting new parts into an offensive line with new parts everywhere else on offense that it’s understandable he hadn’t thought too, too deeply about dynamics of the quarterback room.

A new question, then:

“What about *Chad Henne* makes the dynamic work?”

And the answer came much, much easier.

“He doesn’t have an ego about him,” Fisch said.

And, really, that sums up a whole lot about Henne and the Jaguars’ quarterback situation this offseason.

Henne, a seventh-year veteran, may not be the Jaguars’ quarterback of the future, and in fact he certainly isn’t. How long he figures into the Jaguars’ plans is anybody’s guess, because the NFL is a short-term league and anything more than the season you’re about to play can be pretty long-term.

CHAD HENNE PHOTO GALLERY

And for the short-term, Henne is in what by any definition is a tricky spot. Anyone around the Jaguars who matters will tell you he is the starting quarterback now, that he will be the starter entering training camp and that he not only probably will start the season as the start but could finish that way, too.

At the same time … well, it’s the “at-the-same-time” part that’s tricky, because Henne’s a professional guy and a driven guy, at the same time he’s a smart guy. He knows the future. The Jaguars drafted Blake Bortles No. 3 overall, and Bortles plays quarterback, which means while Bortles isn’t the starter now and he may not be the starter this

season he’s going to be the starter someday, probably no later than September 2015.

That’s where the ego part – of lack thereof – comes in. What the Jaguars are asking of Henne this season – and what he has signed on to do – isn’t easy, but he knew it was a possibility, and as Fisch and others around the Jaguars see it, Henne is very suited to do it.20140528-HenneRightForJob

“There’s a lot there that Chad has to offer and to help us improve as a football team,” Fisch said. “On top of that, he’s a great worker. He’s a great studier. It matters to him. It means a lot to him, and he’s willing to mentor. He’s willing to show Blake what the expectations are and be there for him.”

Fisch then maybe summed Henne up as well as anyone could.

“I think it’s very hard to find a character flaw in Chad,” he said.

And that’s really it, isn’t it? That’s why you pretty much know this thing will work, and that Henne is the right guy at the right time, and the reason it goes well beyond football. Fisch pointed out a lot of the football stuff this week, that “Chad’s a really good football player,” that he was a second-round selection by Miami when he came out
of college in 2008, that he set records at Michigan and that he has the experience a team wants at quarterback with 50 NFL starts.

“No. 1, Chad’s a really good football player,” Fisch said. “That’s why it was such an easy decision in the offseason to sign Chad back. We feel really good about Chad.”

But as much as that, the Jaguars can trust Henne.

OTAs DAY 2 PHOTO GALLERY

They can trust him to be focused on the now, to take an almost zen-like approach to his situation, to getting better, to being The Guy. They can trust him to say the right things, and to do the right things when it comes to leading by example.

Henne has talked often this offseason about leading better, being more assertive, being more comfortable as a leader at the position. It’s the stuff a quarterback does when he ’s the starter, and when talking about it this week, Fisch used the phrase “owning the position.” Whereas last season, for example, Henne might have waited for Fisch to say something in practice if something went wrong in a play, Fisch said Henne now is quicker to act – and speak.

“Now that he’s really beginning to own the offense and see things at a very, very quick speed he can make the correction before a coach can get there,” Fisch said.

Fisch said he’s not surprised at that development, and also that he’s not surprised with Henne’s approach since Bortles was drafted. Just as he worked with Blaine Gabbert whether he or Gabbert were starting in the last two years, Henne has worked with Bortles the last few weeks. And Fisch said there’s no question Henne will work with Bortles whatever the capacity. A professional all the way.

“Being around Chad for a year, I’d be surprised if he’s anything other than that,” Fisch said.

That’s what being pro means, and if Henne has been anything in two-plus seasons with the Jaguars, he has been that. So, no, Fisch hadn’t thought about the whole Dynamic Question in a lot of detail, and yeah, that was OK.

This one, after all, was a no-brainer.

49ers Rookie Dontae Johnson Studies Tall CBs, Champ Bailey and Richard Sherman

Dontae Johnson can’t help but study.

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The San Francisco 49ers fourth-round draft pick was a double major at North Carolina State and is now getting versed in the techniques of several NFL cornerbacks these days. The group includes two of the taller standouts in the league: Champ Bailey and Richard Sherman.

“Those are the big two I’ve really been looking at for press techniques,” San Francisco’s 6-foot-2, 200-pound rookie said before the start of a three-day rookie minicamp.

Johnson, however, won’t be able to showcase what he’s learned until later in the offseason. San Francisco’s non-contact rookie camp will prohibit the young cornerback from using his long levers at the line of scrimmage.

“Given the rules, we’re really not allowed to press, bump, or do anything like that,” Johnson said. “We’ll be playing a lot of off-technique, doing a lot of that in this camp. I look forward to it though.”

Since joining the 49ers following the NFL Draft, Johnson has been reviewing the press-man techniques with secondary coach Ed Donatell.
The rookie has also familiarized himself with San Francisco’s game tape from previous seasons, taking note of the efforts of his fellow 49ers defensive backs like Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver.

tempRTL18057--nfl_mezz_1280_1024“I’m learning from a lot of guys who were here already,” Johnson said. “I’m learning from the film they had last year and I’m watching a few other corners across the league, just trying to simulate how they move and see different body languages.

“With my body type being a taller guy, I tend to watch longer guys, pretty much trying to model my game technique-wise.”

In addition to the cornerback responsibilities of rookie camp, Johnson will also focus on special teams work. The importance of the third phase of the game is not lost on Johnson, who also played safety in college.

“You have to be great on special teams in order to be successful at this level,” Johnson said.

The rookie camp is a great opportunity for Johnson to work on his skills without the veterans taking the bulk of practice reps. And when the experienced players return next week for OTAs, Johnson is eager to compete against San Francisco’s top wideouts.

“All those guys on the other side of the ball are great athletes,” Johnson said of the 49ers deep receiving corps. “It’s going to give me a chance to get better, whether it’s (Michael) Crabtree or (rookie) Bruce Ellington who just got here. All those guys are great guys, great competitors and great athletes so I’m definitely looking forward to that.”

Steep Odds Are Nothing New For WR Washington

IRVING, Texas – L’Damian Washington didn’t want to be misunderstood, he’s grateful for the opportunity to earn a roster spot with the Dallas Cowboys. But it would be a lie to say he was happy about how his NFL draft weekend played out – far from it, in fact.

Cowboys rookie minicamp

“I’ve never been so hurt in my life, honestly,” Washington said. “I’ve never felt so low, honestly. It was not the best birthday present ever.”

That’s an understandable sentiment from any hopeful draft pick, especially one who spent his May 10 birthday watching the last four rounds of the NFL draft slip past without hearing his name called. But those words take on an entirely different weight when you hear them from Washington – a player whose road to the NFL reads a bit like a Greek tragedy.

From his college career at Missouri, to the NFL draft process and on to the Cowboys, people from all walks have stopped to take stock of the circumstances facing the Shreveport, La., native. His father was murdered when he was five years old, and his mother died after suffering a stroke at one of his high school basketball games.

When Washington’s name wasn’t called during the draft, it didn’t disappoint just him, but a house full of his three brothers – of whom he’s the primary caretaker.

“I know this past weekend, last weekend, really hurt us a lot as a family. So it’s my job to kind of get that faith back on the road, you know,” Washington said. “Because we suffered for so long we thought this past weekend would be a point where we could finally say, you know, ‘off to a better life,’ but we had to start back over at zero.”

In this case zero is the route of an undrafted free agent, and Washington had his pick of offers from around the league. It was an old, but impactful, relationship with Cowboys receivers coach Derek Dooley that landed the speedster in Dallas.

Dooley, then the head coach at Louisiana Tech, was the first college coach to offer Washington a scholarship back in 2009. That glimmer of hope eventually led him to the bright lights of the SEC and even the NFL in the long run.

“He was the first coach to give me a chance. And once he did every other coach came along, and I ended up going to Mizzou,” Washington said. “So I felt like I kind of owed him one, so I came here.”

It’s clear Dooley appreciates the relative anonymity afforded him with the Cowboys after the scrutiny of coaching a college power like Tennessee. Asked about Washington during the team’s rookie minicamp, however, his eyes lit up.

“I still remember my home visit with him like it was yesterday – and I say ‘with him,’ because that’s all that was there. He didn’t have anybody,” he said. “It was the longest home visit I’ve ever had with a player, I think I was there eight or nine hours, and it was emotional – it really was.”

Dooley’s reaction to the situation is one that many can identify with. He shared the story with his family, and he said it gave him some perspective on his own life – “I walked out of there thinking ‘How can I ever complain about anything?’” he said.

From talking to Washington, though, you’re not likely to hear any complaints. Regardless of any disappointments, he and his brothers are getting by. Back in Shreveport, he said his story is fairly common, just without the spotlight of the SEC or the NFL.

“Ups and downs, just like everybody else. Nothing’s perfect, but we’re making our way,” he said. “It’s just hard because most college students, when they’re done they get to go home to mom and dad. When I go home I stay in a hotel, because we don’t have enough room in our house.”

Which brings the focal point back to the Cowboys’ roster, and the steep odds facing Washington once again. Most NFL teams carry four or five receivers on their active roster, and in some cases occasionally a sixth. Starters like Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams are a given to make the team, and the Cowboys just spent a draft pick on Devin Street.

The numbers aren’t necessarily in his favor – not that they have been before, and not that it bothers him.

“I think I respond better with adversity, I think that’s what keeps me motivated,” he said. “I’ve got three brothers back home whose water and electric is probably off right now, and I’m here and my job is to go make the team – no matter which way it is. So I don’t care.”

That approach stood out to Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, even in the short amount of time Washington has been at Valley Ranch. Garrett said Washington seemed “serious minded,” and was someone who had made a great deal of progress in the days he has been with the team.

“When you have some of those things that come up in your life that you have to deal with – serious, real life things – typically that gives you a pretty good perspective on how to handle things in the world of football,” Garrett said. “He certainly has those capabilities and those characteristics as a person.”

Only time will tell if the lanky, fast wideout catches on with the Cowboys, or in the NFL in general. The hope from Dooley and the Cowboys’ coaches is that his onfield performance continues to match his character as offseason work begins.

As for Washington, he’s already moving past the draft day snub. True to his story, he said there isn’t any other way to earn it but the hard way.

“I don’t look at my story as a curse or anything, because it’s made me the man I am today,” he said. “I know what’s at stake here, I know what I have to go do – I know I have three brothers that’s waiting on me to bring the meal home. I’m up for it. I’m up for the task.”
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