Defense has dominated the past two days at 49ers Training Camp presented by HP. Defensive lineman Ray McDonald has been a major contributor to that dominance.
In the early part of camp, McDonald has not missed a step entering his sixth season on the 49ers defensive line. It’s not hard to notice, even Alex Smith noted the defensive line’s effectiveness when he met with the media Friday afternoon.
“They are a fun group,” the 49ers quarterback said. “It is infections. Ray is a big part of that. He is really coming into his own as a teammate and a leader.”
The 6-foot-3, 290-pounder is coming off a breakout season in which he registered career highs in three categories with 93 tackles, 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
“For the past four years I was a situational player and then they gave me a chance to go in and start,” McDonald said. “I wanted to take advantage of my opportunity . . . I wanted to make the most of it. I did that last year so I am just trying to build off of that.”
The Pahokee, Fla., native who now lives permanently in the Bay Area, continued to improve into the playoffs last season contributing 2.5 sacks in the NFC Championship Game. McDonald’s 2.5-sack performance tied him for the second-most sacks by a 49ers player in a postseason game.
McDonald has attributed his recent on-field success to improved preparation off the field, a characteristic certainly noticed by Jim Harbaugh.
“Not only knowing my assignments, but knowing the assignment of the guys around me makes the game a lot easier,” McDonald said.
McDonald has forged a formidable partnership alongside fellow lineman Justin Smith as the book ends of San Francisco’s three-man defensive front. Their chemistry was evident in Friday’s practice as Smith, an All-Pro defensive tackle, returned to the field after getting a veteran’s day off on Thursday.
With the defense’s starting lineup back together, the unit continued to spoil the production of the 49ers offense.
“Playing with Justin Smith the past few years has really been a blessing,” McDonald said. “He has shown me how to be a professional, how to be a student of the game, how to train and how to live right day-by-day.”
Harbaugh echoed McDonald’s praise of Smith, a Pro Bowler in each of the past three seasons.
“Justin Smith is a great player,” the 49ers coach said. “He plays like a man fighting to make the roster … I am glad we have him on the team because I know 31 other teams would like to have him.”
Harbaugh is more than thankful to have Smith and McDonald on his side.
“The defense looked dominant in every which way today,” Harbaugh said. “They are playing together at a high level. There is no doubt the defense got the best of (the offense) today.”
So through seven practice sessions thus far in training camp, the defense has seized the attention largely thanks to the work in the trenches from players like McDonald and Smith.
“Training camps are training camps,” said McDonald, spoken like a true veteran. “We are just trying to get better every day and become a team by the first game.”
Tags: Alex Smith, Jim Harbaugh, Justin Smith, Ray McDonald
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