Saint Eric

Eric Johnson set a 49ers franchise record for most receptions in a season by a TE in 2004, but he left the team as a free agent this year to find a new opportunity as a starter with the New Orleans Saints. Here, Johnson - who's second on the team in catches to RB Reggie Bush - talks 49ers and Saints and discusses his move to New Orleans as he returns to San Francisco with his new team this Sunday.

Q: You are getting a lot of receptions. Is this what you expected when you went to New Orleans?
Johnson:
Yeah, I hoped to be. I just wanted to be involved in this offense. I saw a really good potential in playing with Drew Brees, who really knows how to find his receivers. I've been happy playing with them. I think as I'm here longer, I will build chemistry and things will get better from there.

Q: Do you see this as being a long-term move for you?
Johnson:
I don't know. I'm just trying to play out my year. I'm a Saint now, so I've made that switch. That's up to management, but yeah, I like it here and it's been fun.

Q: Did you consider coming back here and what weighed in your decision to go to New Orleans?
Johnson:
"I did seriously consider going back to the 49ers. It was a hard decision, but in the end it came down to what I saw as potential on the field. I've been a starter most of my career, and wanted to see if I could come here and do the same. I knew when we drafted Vernon Davis, it wasn't looking great. I just want to be out there playing football. It's tough when you start for a while and then you get out there and you're not playing as much. So it's been good coming out here.

Q: Does it surprise you at all that the offense you played on last year is now ranked last in the NFL?
Johnson:
Yeah, it does. It thought we had a good thing going last year. Obviously they had the injury to Alex (Smith) and things just didn't go their way. You can't worry about that too much when you're six games in, but hopefully they'll get things turned around after they play us.

Q: Do you keep in touch with any of the guys out here?
Johnson:
Yeah. I'm busy during the season, so I don't talk to too many guys, but I text message and say hi to some of the guys every so often.

Q: What was your understanding if the 49ers brought you back of what your role would have been?
Johnson:
I guess I'd be a tight end complement to Vernon. Kind of what I did last year, I'd be the second tight end. I understood I'd be there to go in, like I did last year, if he got hurt as the number one tight end. I definitely saw an opportunity to play. I didn't think I wouldn't be playing at all. I just saw more of an opportunity out here.

Q: Do you think things are turning around for you guys winning your last two games?
Johnson:
I do. I think the momentum has changed. For some reason, things didn't work out those first four games for us, but I like the attitude on the team now. We have a bit of confidence winning these last two games. We just have to continue to make that happen in the next upcoming games.

Q: Do you think playing with Reggie Bush has helped you as a receiver because of all the attention he draws?
Johnson:
I think so. He's obviously going to draw attention as a receiver and as a running back. I think we have a lot of weapons and Drew knows how to throw the ball to anyone who is open. I think people need to respect everyone who is on the field and I feel that helps me.

Q: Did you develop a rapport with Drew Brees immediately?
Johnson:
I think it was. It came pretty quick. As we play together longer, it will get better. In that game specifically, the way their defense played, there ended up being a lot of check downs to me. I think the chemistry is good. I feel that Drew is one of those guys that really understands the game and has a feel for what a guy is going to do, kind of like playing pick-up basketball. A good player has a feel for where other guys are going to be.

Q: Do you feel you are being used in the same way as you were here in 2004, when you caught the 82 receptions?
Johnson:
Yeah, I guess so. The only difference might be that I haven't been catching as many longer catches, but I definitely feel I'm out there running similar routes to that year. But year to year, it's kind of the same routes. It's just how things work out and how you connect with the quarterback. It's not like I'm being considered the number one guy all the time.

Q: What's your favorite restaurant down there in New Orleans?
Johnson:
I'm going to have to go with Jacques-Imo's. It's some good New Orleans food. It's a pretty casual place, but has a straight New Orleans feel.

Q: What drew you to live in the downtown area? Was it the atmosphere?
Johnson:
Definitely. I felt like it would be a better chance to experience the culture of New Orleans and to be a part of the city. My wife and I decided to move in there and brought our dog to live in an apartment there in the city and it's been pretty fun. It feels really small when you get used to it and everyone is pretty friendly.

Q: Who are the leaders on offense and does it change week to week?
Johnson:
I think it depends week to week on who steps up and makes plays. But the number one leader is Drew. He has a presence in the huddle and knows his stuff backwards and forwards. It's like having Coach Payton in the huddle. He just knows where everyone is supposed to be. He'll give you a correction, you think you're on the backside and you run a route a little sloppy, he'll correct that route easy. He's a definite leader in the huddle.



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