Judging from the previous four years he spent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Josh Johnson appeared foreordained to a continued quarterbacking career decorated in mediocrity.
In that time, the Bucs’ 2008 fifth-round draft pick amassed just five starts, appeared in 26 games, and threw twice as many interceptions as he did touchdowns.
But for the 26-year-old Oakland native, the two-year contract he signed with the 49ers last May is somewhat of a return to normalcy.
“It’s like déjà vu,” Johnson said, who returns under the tutelage of Jim Harbaugh, his coach during his first two years at the University of San Diego. “It’s like he always says, ‘You can get better or get worse. You don’t stay the same.’ That’s how he approaches coaching. I’m just happy to be able to receive that everyday.”
And in addition to coaching, Johnson this offseason will also receive the opportunity to vie for San Francisco’s backup quarterback slot, a position currently occupied by Colin Kaepernick. But seizing that spot won’t be easy.
“We really believe that all four of the quarterbacks that we have on this team are NFL quarterbacks that will play this game for a very long time,” Harbaugh said. “And Josh is doing well.”
And as of right now, Johnson recognizes his place in the passing hierarchy while he learns the personnel.
“I am the new quarterback here. So I gotta get caught up to speed,” Johnson said. “Our coach is not going to slow down.”
But since setting four career passing records at USD, little has slowed down for the once collegiate standout. And while confessing that his pro career hasn’t taken off like he’d once expected, he finds optimism in what lies ahead.
“I’m still young,” he said. “Still learning, just trying to get better everyday. And now it’s all about the situation. I feel it’s a great situation here, being part of a great team, a great group of guys.”
Still, the Oakland Tech High School alumnus views his job as simple — when given the opportunity to be under center, man and control the offense.
“He’s a natural thrower,” Harbaugh said, acknowledging that he and his coaches occasionally remind Johnson of his mechanics. “But he’s a natural when it comes to throwing the ball.”
Throwing, however, isn’t the only thing that comes natural. Despite his Oakland roots, Johnson has always been a 49ers fan — the only one in his family, he claims.
“I used to get it everyday,” he recalled from his boyhood. “When the Niners would win, I used to really puff out my chest, a lot.”
Perhaps beginning in September, Johnson will be able to do the same as a pro.