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Q & A: Eric Johnson
By ROGER MILLS
Published November 21, 2004
He is on pace to lead the NFC in receiving yards and end with more than 90 receptions. It has been a pretty good season for 49ers tight end Eric Johnson, whose efforts are likely lost in the carnage that is San Francisco's record. Here are some thoughts he shared with Times staff writer Roger Mills and the local media last week:
How does it feel to be considered among the game's elite tight ends?
It feels great. This was definitely a goal of mine. It was disappointing to be out the whole year last year ... and I feel like I'm on my way. I'm going to keep working and do what I do, and hopefully balls will come my way to help this team get a win this week. We need one badly."
Has the team's record taken some of the pleasure out of your Pro Bowl-like performance?
Yeah, it takes it all out. It's been a really tough season. I've been playing well statistically. I feel like I've been having a real good season, but the team comes first in this game. It really just beats on you each week, especially when you know your team deserves to be better than 1-8. We've given a lot of games away and mentally that beats on you. When you look at this Bucs defense, does it look like the elite defense it once was?
Yeah. They do. We're definitely preparing for this defense like it was any of the top defenses in the league. I believe they rank first or second in a lot of categories. ... Just like we don't feel like we're a 1-8 team, the Bucs don't feel like they are a 3-6 team.
Back in your days at Yale, did you think you would play in the NFL?
To be honest, I didn't think about playing pro until the end of my junior year. I didn't really think it was something I could do. I saw all the big-time schools and they looked pretty darned fast and intimidating. I didn't realize it was something in my future. But after my junior year, I had a really good year and I started getting more confidence in myself and through my senior year I had another good year.
How many other Yale grads are in the NFL?
We got (TE) Nate Lawrie, he just got drafted in the sixth round by Tampa. Chris Hetherington in Oakland is a fullback and I think that's it. We've got three strong, right now.
What would you be doing if it wasn't for football?
I don't know. Everyone asks me that ... I had an interview with Leeman Brothers in New York for a trading and banking type thing and got to the final round interview. It was pretty intense. I went in there for a bunch of interviews and ended up not getting the job. It was right around the time when I was making the decision, do I want to go put everything into this, try to gain 20 pounds and really get after the football thing? Or do I want to enjoy my senior year in college and go into something like that? I'm definitely thankful that they didn't give me the job. Who knows what could have happened.
Are you aware that Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler ate the Bucs defense alive?
I'll definitely check them out. I've got to get a chance to see that whole thing, but it looked like he just got a step inside the Cover 2 and Michael Vick threw a nice ball. But I'll check everything out.
Is the Bucs defense vulnerable to the big-play tight end?
It has been true in the past. There's always the chance, on a play action, to get the backers to jump and find the middle of the hole between the two safeties. But it's definitely changing.