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Beast From The East: 49ers D-Lineman Ray McDonald

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With the improvement from the San Francisco 49ers this year, there has been more talk about their squad and players have received individual credit for their performance. Most of the talk has been centralized on the comeback season by quarterback Alex Smith, the Pro Bowl play by Carlos Rogers or the tandem of NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. At the moment, it seems that most football fans outside of Niner Nation are unaware of who Ray McDonald is.

Ever since McDonald was drafted by the 49ers in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft from the University of Florida, I was eager for him to become more of a role player. And when San Francisco held on to him, giving him more playing time over the years, I started to get a feel for this guy's potential. Eventually, when Aubrayo Franklin was released and Isaac Sopoaga was moved over to nose tackle, McDonald received his starter-money and his name at the top of the depth chart.

I loved this move primarily because I knew Sopoaga could replace Franklin and it would give McDonald a great opportunity to start and get acclimated. For this defense, McDonald is a great fit and reminds of Haloti Ngata in Ravens scheme. His stats aren't going to be eye-popping but his performance certainly will be. Even having missed some time this year, McDonald, as a 3-4 end, has 3 sacks and quite a bunch of quarterback pressures.

He has been nursing a hamstring injury, wherein Ricky Jean-Francois filled in nicely -- another potential starter in this league someday. McDonald saw action last week against the Giants but was still limited in practice this week due to the hamstring. Last week he recorded 3 tackles at Candlestick Park. This week and the next, I expect McDonald to be more full throttle coming off the injury -- given it does not flair up again.

At 6'3, 290-pounds, few offensive linemen in the league have looked ready for McDonald or just flat out beat him on the day. He's big, fast, athletic, smart and few know about what he brings to the table. I like this guy for the long haul; I'm buying what he's selling because he's a key component to what has made this an elite defense. The contributions that come from McDonald often lead to the 49ers winning in the trenches.

Additionally, he looks to gel so well with the other defensive linemen, especially when they are in the base defense that calls for him, Sopoaga and Smith to have their hands in the ground. They are building on a chemistry that already looks to be strong. Whether they are stunting or occupying linemen for each other or the linebackers, it's smooth.

I will definitely be watching him this weekend when San Francisco takes on the division rival Arizona Cardinals, as they look to take their record to 9-1. I believe the 49ers defensive front clearly outmatches the Cardinals offensive line unit, and it could lead to a big day for McDonald and another team win. This has been my pat on the back to Ray Mac for a job well done; it's always good to have those players who get after it.

Follow me on Twitter: @DeSimone80