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Mixed Reception

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Tight end Eric Johnson returns to San Francisco, the city for which he hoped to finish his career, in black and gold to face his former teammates Friday, October 26, 2007 By Mike Triplett Saints tight end Eric Johnson never ...

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Old 10-26-2007, 12:56 AM   #1
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Cool Mixed Reception

Tight end Eric Johnson returns to San Francisco, the city for which he hoped to finish his career, in black and gold to face his former teammates

Friday, October 26, 2007
By Mike Triplett

Saints tight end Eric Johnson never planned on leaving San Francisco, where he spent his first six NFL seasons.

But the 49ers more or less made the decision for him when they drafted tight end Vernon Davis with the sixth overall pick in the 2006 draft.

"Of course I understood," said Johnson, whose promising career had been derailed by two major injuries in 2003 and 2005. "But at that point, I thought I'd be a 49er for my whole career. So I was definitely not ecstatic."

Johnson, 28, split time with Davis last season. But when he became a free agent this year, he decided to move on to New Orleans, which has one of the most inclusive offenses in the league.

Now he will suit up in the visiting locker room at Monster Park and line up across from his former teammates for the first time when the Saints play the 49ers on Sunday afternoon.

"I just kind of made the decision based on what would make me happiest, and that was to try to play more and be more involved in the offense," said Johnson, who settled for a one-year deal in New Orleans because he thought it would be such a good fit. "I liked this offense and the coaches and the feel of Coach (Sean) Payton and this whole program.

"There's so many weapons, I don't think I came in with any expectations for me, personally, for how much I'd get. But I just wanted to be involved and be a part of this offense. And things have gone well."

Johnson has been more solid than spectacular with the Saints, but he is a key element of their offense.

He ranks second on the team with 28 receptions for 194 yards and a touchdown. But his best play of the season was a fumble recovery at Seattle, after Saints receiver David Patten coughed up the ball in the first quarter.

"Right when it happened, there were three or four Seahawks around the ball, and then he's running from behind and came up with the football, which was a huge play," Payton said of the play that arguably single-handedly turned around the Saints' season. "He earned that one just through his hustle and effort. That's the type of effort you're looking for, and that was encouraging."

Saints quarterback Drew Brees said that play was indicative of the guy Johnson is -- a heady player and a hard worker.

"I love his work ethic. Whenever I see the guy, he's either working, stretching or watching film, doing something that involves becoming a better football player," Brees said of Johnson, a former seventh-round pick out of Yale.

"Ivy Leaguers," Brees added. "What can you say?"

Johnson's rise to success was similar to that of teammate Marques Colston, who was a seventh-round pick out of Hofstra.

Johnson was a wide receiver at Yale -- a spectacular one, who once caught 21 passes for 244 yards in a game against rival Harvard -- but a slow and skinny receiver by NFL standards.

So he added 22 pounds of muscle before the 2001 draft and converted himself into a tight end.

It was nothing new for the multi-talented athlete, who also punted and played on the golf team in college and played soccer, basketball and volleyball in high school in Needham, Mass.

Plus, if it didn't work out, the American Studies major probably would have gone into the business world.

However, he caught the eye of Bill Walsh, the legendary former 49ers coach and general manager, who famously made Johnson his final draft pick before retiring. At first, Johnson was nicknamed "Bill's son." But soon he was being compared to former 49ers great Brent Jones.

Johnson caught 76 passes for 683 yards and three touchdowns in his first two seasons. He missed the 2003 season with a broken collarbone. Then he had a breakout year in 2004, catching 82 passes for 825 yards and two scores.

His career again was sidetracked in 2005, when he missed the entire season with a torn plantar fascia. The 49ers then drafted Davis.

"I think Eric's an outstanding professional," said 49ers Coach Mike Nolan, who said he wanted Johnson to re-sign with San Francisco. "I was sorry to see him leave. He does an outstanding job with the talents that he has, and he works extremely hard."

Johnson said his wife has been back in the San Francisco area since Monday, and his dad will fly in from Boston. He's looking forward to stopping by the home they keep there, and he'll probably catch up with most of his former teammates after the game.

He said he was willing to help the Saints' coaches prepare their game plan for the 49ers, but he said they did a pretty good job without him last December, when New Orleans beat San Francisco 34-10 at the Superdome.

"I played with some of those guys all six years I was with the Niners, and I practiced against that defense," Johnson said. "It'll be crazy. But it'll be a lot of fun."

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Old 10-26-2007, 04:34 PM   #2
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Re: Mixed Reception

28 receptions for 194 yards and a touchdown so far this year is not bad. But only a one year contract. If he keeps playing well along the road I'll defenitly hope they extend his contract.
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