He is entering his second year as a starter in the 49ers defense after being a situational player. McDonald becoming a starter at left defensive tackle was part of the move to let Aubrayo Franklin walk and move Isaac Sopoaga to nose. In 2011, the move proved to be efficient and McDonald had a great first year.
Entering 2012, the 49ers like McDonald where he is and we could see progress from the defensive lineman this season. McDonald is definitely a sleeper candidate to have a Pro Bowl year in his second as a starter. In his presser from training camp, McDonald talked about the team, his role and a bit about Justin Smith.
Follow me after the jump for comments from Ray McDonald.On training camp:
"I mean, I just feel like we’re getting better every day. You know, we started off kind of slow, but we’re trying to get better each and every practice and feed off each other."
On Justin Smith:
"Yeah, I mean, Justin [Smith] sets the tempo, with his work ethic in the offseason and during the season. He sets the tempo for the defense; he’s the leader for this defense, he’s been around a long time, he knows the game and guys like to follow someone like that, someone who stays at it and works hard every day."
"Playing with Justin Smith these past few years has been a blessing, he's showed me a lot. He showed me how to be a professional, how to be a student of the game, how to train, how to go and live life day-by-day."
On his role:
"For the past 4 years, I was a situational player and then they gave me a chance to go in there and start. You know, I wanted to take advantage of my opportunity. I never had this opportunity since I’ve been in the NFL and I just wanted to make the most of it and I did that last year. So, I’m just trying to build off of that."
"All of them are elite quarterbacks, so we have to be on our A-game. They spread the ball around a good amount, they’re great passers, they’re smart; so going into that week, we really have to be on top of our game."
McDonald's approach to the game:
"I think just being a student of the game, paying attention to blocking schemes, not only knowing my assignments, but knowing the guys around me assignments. When you know that, it makes the game a lot easier for you. Then you know, 'I can do this move on this certain play, or I can take this chance on this certain call.' I believe that was a big part of my game, just being a student of the game and understanding what everybody else is doing on defense."
McDonald seems to have the same humble, blue-collar demeanor as the rest of his teammates. He appeared focused but loose at his first presser with the media.
McDonald had 5.5 sacks in his first year as a starter. He is a smart player who prides himself on the knowledge of the game and is looking to benefit from the situation he is in. With established veterans of Justin Smith's caliber to learn from, and McDonald's desire to become a better player, he will no doubt improve in the immediate future.