With David Amerson, Earl Wolff and even Brandan Bishop receiving the vast majority of the preseason headlines, Johnson has remained somewhat unknown.
His teammates don't expect that will be the case for long.
"I don't want to give away the secret," Wolff said earlier this week with a big grin. "A lot of people don't know, but he's going to be a great player. I saw it coming last year, and I can't imagine what he's going to do during the season."
If his performance in 2012 is similar to what he did a year ago, Johnson will once again be the most versatile player on State's defense. He'll spend the majority of his time at boundary corner, but the New Jersey native will also see action at safety and nickel linebacker, spots he thrived in during the 2011 season.
"Coming into college I never imagined playing linebacker or corner, but I just take it day by day," Johnson said. "I'm just blessed to have the talent and coaches that I do. I don't feel any pressure, I'm just glad to be out there."
Mike Reed, who said in July that he was surprised at how well Johnson handled the transition to corner, said Tuesday that Johnson's intelligence has him excited about the possibilities once the Wolfpack take the field.
"He has a great football IQ, so that coupled with his athleticism is a plus," Reed said. "The thing with a guy like Dontae is that you can plug him in anywhere and he's not going to hurt you."
In his sophomore campaign, Johnson tallied 27 tackles, four pass breakups and three sacks. He played a season-high 58 snaps in NC State's 37-13 win over No. 7 Clemson.
Mike Archer said in July that NC State's late-season run had a lot to do with the way Johnson played.
"What worked in our favor was that the majority of the teams we played at the end of the year were spread-type offenses, which opened the door for us to use our nickel packages," Archer said. "I would say we were probably in the nickel 70 percent of the time in those games, so we had Dontae on the field. It's a big reason why we were able to win those games."
Heading into the season opener against Tennessee, Reed said he assumes that Johnson will continue to make plays and help the secondary in base defense and nickel situations, when he could still play some linebacker.
Assuming most teams try to avoid throwing at Amerson, who set the ACC's single-season mark in 2011 with 13 interceptions, Johnson should have plenty of chances to make the game-changing plays that he, his teammates and coaches think he's able to make.
"I love the feeling of being out there on the edge," he said. "That's where the plays are made, and I'm willing to put myself out there. With me and David, our length and athleticism is something we use to our advantage. Quarterbacks are going to have to throw at one of us, so we have to be ready."