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Dontae Johnson might get some slot opportunities over Jimmie Ward

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The San Francisco 49ers will need to figure out how to cover a guy like Jimmy Graham. Trent Baalke suggested Dontae Johnson as an option.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers had some issues early last season when nickel back Jimmie Ward was dominated by 6'4 wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Ward showed improvement as the season wore on, but it has been difficult for folks to move past that ugly Week 2 performance. Of course, considering Ward is 5'10, it was going to be a difficult task for him to face Marshall in the red zone.

On Tuesday, general manager Trent Baalke offered some hints about how the team might address such a matchup in 2015. He mentioned that Shareece Wright would compete for work both outside and in the slot, but he also offered this:

"You get (Seahawks tight end) Jimmy Graham in there -- and I'm just throwing this out; it's for the coaches to decide -- maybe they look at it and say, 'Maybe Dontae's a better matchup because he's 6-2, good arm length and can match up maybe a little bit better than Jimmie (Ward).'"

Baalke posed this as a hypothetical, but you have to think it has been discussed in some way. Big guys like Graham might still find success against the 49ers, but adding a bit more height to the guy covering him could at least be a step in the right direction.

When the Seahawks first acquired Jimmy Graham, Baalke got a question about him and joked about finding a 6'6 corner. It is unlikely they'll find somebody quite that big, but maybe Dontae Johnson ends up being that internal option. He got significant playing time his rookie year, and will likely be a front-runner for more time in 2015. Shareece Wright and Chris Cook will be in the mix, and the team still could add a cornerback or two in the draft.

My hope is that Johnson ends up starting when the team heads into Week 1. He was inconsistent at times as a rookie, but he showed signs of being an impact corner for this team.