Incoming rookie receiver Ronald Johnson got a head start on learning the 49ers playbook recently, and he did so with a little help from his friends.
During a recent phone interview, Johnson said he spent about a week and a half in the Bay Area following the draft during which he worked out with fellow receivers Josh Morgan, Kevin Jurovich and quarterback Alex Smith. Due to the ongoing lockout, sixth-round draft picks like him have very little money in their pockets. So Johnson stayed in the home of former USC teammate Taylor Mays. Meanwhile, Smith, who is technically a free agent, sprung for Johnson's flight back and forth from his home in Muskegon, Mi.
"I basically spent the whole time I was out there in my room at Taylor's house studying the playbook," Johnson said. Johnson said he didn't want to be a burden on Mays and doesn't have enough money to rent a place of his own in the expensive Bay Area. So he flew back to Muskegon and is now staying with his uncle.
Johnson, who was known for his work ethic at USC, said he works out three times a day at a nearby high school. One of the three sessions involves catching passes from a high school teammate - "luckily, he still has a strong arm," Johnson said - and running routes from his new team's playbook.
"He's very passionate," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said recently of Johnson. "Everybody we talked to at USC talked about his passion for the game. He lives in the weight room, lives in the building. He has always wanted to be a pro."
Johnson has a bit of an advantage on his rookie counterparts in that he is already familiar with the routes he will be asked to run. His college position coach, John Morton, has the same job with the 49ers. Indeed, Morton was the one who lobbied the 49ers to take Johnson with the 182nd overall pick.
Johnson said the 49ers routes are similar to the ones he ran with the Trojans. But they're called different names and the overall concepts are a little different. And that's what he's trying to master every night while he and the rest of the rookies wait out the lockout. Baalke suggested that Johnson's best fits were as a flanker and slot receiver. Johnson, however, said he intended to learn all three receiver positions.
"It will give me a better chance to get on the field," he said.
-- Matt Barrows