The 6'4, 267 pound Texas native sounds like he's foaming at the mouth in anticipation of ditching the shells for full pads. He discussed wanting to be a "50-50" type of player--a guy who can be dangerous whether split out wide or inside. But of everything McDonald said in the interview, one thing immediately jumped out at me and, based on the title of the transcript, it clearly caught the eye of the Press Democrat's Grant Cohn as well.
Question: What are your strengths as a pass catcher?
McDonald: I would say using my size to lean on guys and create separation rather than beating them with pure speed. In certain schemes that is an option for me but I’ve always enjoyed using my body, especially the last two days with the pads on. They’ve tried to teach me to use arm and hand techniques, and I’m like, "Coach, I just want to run through them. Come on! What are you talking about?!" But that’s all a part of it. I’m going to have to learn that as well here shortly in the next few weeks. I just think I use my size to my advantage.
As soon as he spoke about running through people, it evoked images of Brent Jones and Tom Rathman. Yes, I realize Rathman was a fullback, but just in terms of hard-nosed, downfield running. This is where Vernon Davis may actually learn a thing or two from the rookie. Davis is supremely talented but many times he fails to use that rare combination of size and speed to full advantage. You've seen it before:
Davis catches a pass in stride but is about to meet a defender head on. Instead of charging through them with locomotive speed, he slows down and attempts to juke around them to no avail. It's a strange dichotomy--Davis is a preeminent blocker but that physicality tends to disappear when the ball is in his hands. More often than not, he shies away from contact or tries to run around it. Davis really only fights opposing tacklers after he's already been lassoed by the legs and has nowhere to go. It's always mystified me. When you're that big and powerful, why not stay at top speed, put your head down, cover the ball with two hands, and truck through defenders?
The athletic specimen he is, Davis just doesn't throw around those 250 lbs. the way you'd like him to. It'd be a breath of fresh air to see him throw out a stiff arm or charge with a shoulder on occasion.
With all that he'll teach McDonald, I wonder if some of the blunt-force tactics McDonald talks about utilizing will rub off on Davis. A tiger doesn't change its stripes and, in his eighth year, I don't know how much Davis will alter his game to adapt a more punishing running style. In the event he doesn't, McDonald serves as a nice complement. He appears to be more of a classic tight end--a guy who can catch the ball in traffic and leverage that height to be a sizable redzone target. The 49ers moved up in the 2nd round to draft him, so they clearly made him a big priority going into the draft--a move that is all the more valuable in light of the Crabtree injury. As indicated in various reports, Davis was seeing time at wideout during OTAs. If McDonald wasn't on the squad, I highly doubt that would be the case, but I digress.
Perhaps playing alongside Delanie Walker (a former college wide receiver) influenced Davis' approach with the ball in his hands. At any rate, it will be interesting to see how he and McDonald co-exist and what they learn from each other. Davis already has a lot of responsibility heaped upon his shoulders as the Niners' number one threat in the passing game, but a more strong-armed disposition (and added consistency) would make him all the more lethal.