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August 1, 2012
The NC State secondary returns all four starters from a year ago. Three of the defensive backs have started for at least two-and-a-half years, while junior All-American David Amerson has started for basically both of his years on campus.
However, when the Wolfpack took the field for the first day of practice, there was a new face on the back line with the first-team defense - junior Dontae Johnson, who lined up at cornerback in place of C.J. Wilson.
Seeing the playing field is nothing new for Johnson, who has appeared in all but one of the team's games over the past two years and started three times. However, the majority of his experience comes at safety, or playing in the nickel package. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder was moved to cornerback this spring by the coaches and is adjusting to playing on the outside well.
"It's a little different coming from safety, but I've played the nickel spot," he said. "It's extending me out more, but it's O.K., it's not that big of a challenge.
"That was my first time playing corner when I got moved in the spring. To have never played the position and everything, I felt like I did pretty well. The coaches trusted me to do well and I'm in a good position now, but honestly I'm not satisfied where I'm at, I'm still working on everything. That's why we have training camp."
Johnson said he'd grade himself at a 'C' for the first day of practice, but is more worried about improving everyday than anything else. He is relying on his previous experience, whether in the nickel back role or from safety, to help ease the adjustment to a new spot on the field.
"It helps a lot because of the fact that at the nickel spot, I was able to see things from the inside-out," he said. "I was able to see the routes and the combinations. Moving outside, I just now have to cover a different aspect of the route combination. I still see them and recognize them.
"Coming from safety, I see a lot of things better because that is also inside-out. At corner, I'm looking outside-in, but I see a lot of things faster. I think that was the reason they moved me out there because I was able to grasp information that fast and recognize routes."
Johnson noted he brings his aggressive mindset from playing safety and nickel back to his new position, while his versatility and speed also helps on the outside. However, there are differences between the positions, and Johnson has attacked that challenge with extra film study.
"In the nickel, you have to know the blitz packages and looks more inside, worry about the run more," he explained. "My reads are different on the inside, I read 2-3; outside I read 1-2. At safety, you can be a little more lenient on breaks, but at cornerback, you have the react a lot faster because the ball is coming out a lot faster.
"I've been watching film from three perspectives - safety, corner and from the linebacker perspective for when I play nickel. It's a little challenging at times, at first it was a little overwhelming to me, but now that I have a year under my belt, picking up the corner stuff isn't that hard."
The Pennington, N.J., native has embraced the way coaches move him around on the field and he thinks it will pay dividends in 2012.
"I was ecstatic to move to cornerback, it gets me on the field and I would do anything to help this team win," he said. "If the coaches trust me to move to corner and play at this level, I'm down for it. I took it as a challenge to make myself better and the team better. Me getting better will make the whole secondary and team better.
"I'll do whatever I have to do to help this team, if it's me playing SAM linebacker, I'll do it."