Josh Johnson knows all about taking mental practice snaps after four seasons as a backup quarterback in the NFL.
Since he was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL draft out of the University of San Diego, that's what Johnson has mostly done in practices.
So when Johnson was released by the 49ers at the end of training camp in August, he was looking and hoping for another chance in the NFL. When that didn't materialize, Johnson was happy to step from backup to starter with the Mountain Lions of the United Football League, where he can take lessons learned into game situations.
"It's great to get reps every day because the retention of it is a lot better," Johnson said. "It's not like you're getting one of every 20 reps or one of every 10 reps or however the reps are split up. You can work on little things; you can work on different things. You experience a lot of different situations in practice, and you don't have to experience it for the first time in a game."
Johnson's NFL experience had been sparse 26 regular-season games so the mental rep was the norm. His chances were limited in Tampa Bay after the team used its 2009 first-round draft pick on quarterback Josh Freeman.
In the past offseason, Johnson signed with the 49ers to play for Jim Harbaugh, his coach in San Diego. Johnson played in all four exhibition games for San Francisco, but he lost the No. 3 quarterback job to Scott Tolzien.
First-year Mountain Lions coach Turk Schonert was familiar with Johnson, and when Johnson became available, he reached out to the quarterback.
"I was with Buffalo (as an assistant coach) when he came out, and I studied Josh, liked him coming out of college," Schonert said. "He's a guy that brings play-making ability with his legs, his arms, his mind. So I call him a triple threat. That's what intrigued me about him when we contacted him after he was released by the 49ers."
Schonert also likes the fact Johnson was tutored by Harbaugh in college and had more time with him this year.
It's also made the transition from the 49ers to the Mountain Lions easier.
Harbaugh has some of the same philosophies of the late 49ers coach Bill Walsh in his offensive system, and Schonert played for Walsh at Stanford and also has borrowed from the Pro Football Hall of Fame coach.
"He's been schooled well," Schonert said of Johnson. "And you can see that on the field. He calms everybody down. He's got good leadership qualities."
Johnson has wasted no time taking control of the Mountain Lions' offense now that he has the opportunity to be a leader.
The Mountain Lions, who began practicing last week, begin the season Friday night against the Omaha Nighthawks at Raley Field. Johnson already likes what he's seen.
"Since we've been here, and once we've been working with the coaches, guys have been working hard," Johnson said. "But we're communicating well, and that's one thing that's important, the communication. As long as we can be on the same page, we can iron out the kinks."
Johnson is already making an impression on his teammates, too.
"As far as what I see on the field, very poised, he commands the offense, he knows what he's doing, and he takes charge," said fullback Manase Tonga, who spent last season with the Raiders. "Those are the things you want to see in a quarterback."
Playing in Sacramento also allows Johnson's family in Oakland the opportunity to attend home games.
That's a positive, but what's most important for Johnson is to try to use some of the tips from Harbaugh to earn another chance in the NFL.
"Do what I do best in the offense," Johnson said. "I picked a lot of that up again in San Fran, and hopefully it carries over here."