Josh Johnson returns to the Bay Area in an enemy uniform, but don't be surprised if he gets a big pre-game hug from Jim Harbaugh. Johnson, the Buccaneers backup quarterback, played for Harbaugh at the University of San Diego, and Harbaugh has spoken fondly - very fondly - about Johnson since. Harbaugh went so far as to call Johnson, who grew up in Oakland, "the beloved son" during a radio appearance this week on KNBR.
"Knowing the competitor that Josh is, we'll say 'hi' before the game, give each other a big hug," Harbaugh said. "Then he'll walk away and try to gouge our eyes out. ... He's like the beloved son. And I hope he doesn't beat us. We'll be trying to gouge his eyes out, too." Johnson played for Harbaugh from 2004-06, and Johnson left the school as one of the most accurate passers in NCAA history.
Receiver John Matthews, whom the 49ers added to their practice squad this week, was one of Johnson's targets with the Toreros. "He's got all the ability," Matthews said. "But the thing that I think separated him were his intangibles - his competitiveness, he's a humble guy, likes to spread the ball around and get everyone involved. He's a leader. He leads by example. He just found ways to win."
The Buccaneers selected Johnson in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, and for the last two years he has been starter Josh Freeman's backup. Johnson also was a prolific rusher at San Diego, and Tampa Bay uses him every so often as a Wildcat option at quarterback. He ran the ball once for eight yards in Monday's win over Indianapolis.
His background with Harbaugh, and Harbaugh's consistent praise of Johnson, led to speculation this offseason that the 49ers might attempt to trade for Johnson. Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris this week declined to say whether Tampa Bay received trade offers for Johnson during the offseason.
Johnson is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, as is the 49ers current starting quarterback, Alex Smith, who is off to his best season in seven years. The 49ers also used a second-round pick this year on a quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who has many of the same traits as Johnson. Kaepernick, it seems, will have a role with the 49ers this season similar to the one that Johnson has with the Buccaneers.
-- Matt Barrows