The San Francisco 49ers have one of, if not the, best rush defenses in the NFL. Filled with multiple All-Pro and Pro Bowl players, it’s hard for all 11 deserving players to get recognition.
One of the most unheralded defenders is defensive tackle Ray McDonald, a hard-working lineman who’s earned the respect of his teammates and coaches with his consistent approach.
McDonald continues to be at the forefront of San Francisco’s tough defense and maintains his role as one of the locker room’s favorite players. This week’s Gameday Magazine cover story touched on McDonald’s respect amongst his peers in their words only.
The cover imagery of McDonald running out of the cover was shot by team photographer Terrell Lloyd and designed by team graphic designer Ben Mayberry.
Find out why everyone loves Ray McDonald.
Everyone Loves Ray
[Just not the opposition.]
By Taylor Price, 49ers.com
This isn’t a story for stats or analysis – it’s a collection of real-life words about a dominant San Francisco 49ers defender. The anecdotes, descriptions and opinions come directly from the people who know Ray McDonald best, his teammates and coaches. That’s it. Pure and simple.
San Francisco’s 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive tackle continues to endear himself to those who know him well. McDonald does it all while distancing himself from those who have the unenviable assignment of blocking one of the strongest players in the National Football League. McDonald’s come a long way when you consider that the 49ers third-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft entered the league with health questions. But what many viewed as a concern, McDonald has used as fuel. The defensive tackle has missed two games in five seasons; all while becoming one of the most underrated players in the game today.
The people who spend the most time with McDonald know that and so do the people who break down his game tape. That’s why they wrote this story. In it, teammates and the San Francisco defender himself, discuss everything on McDonald’s rise from a National Championship experience at the University of Florida, to him overcoming major knee injuries (both in college and his rookie season), to evaluating his exceptional game tape, to mastering the no-sack dance, to his diverse musical interests and lastly, a breakdown on the mutual respect that’s prevalent in the 49ers locker room.
Everyone loves Ray (McDonald). Here are the reasons why, from the people who know him best.
“Everyone Loves Ray”
RM: 49ers Defensive Tackle – Ray McDonald.
VF: Defensive Coordinator – Vic Fangio.
JT: Defensive Line Coach – Jim Tomsula.
JS: All-Pro Defensive Tackle – Justin Smith.
DG: Pro Bowl Safety & 2007Draft Class Member – Dashon Goldson.
TB: Starting Cornerback & 2007 Draft Class Member –Tarell Brown.
PH: Outside Linebacker & Six-Year Teammate –Parys Haralson.
RJF: Defensive Tackle & Understudy – Ricky Jean Francois.
SCENE 1 – MOVING UP THE RANKS.
“I don’t want to take anything for granted when it comes to this game. Before my injuries, I loved football, but I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have. When I had that (season-ending) injury my rookie season, it opened my eyes like, ‘Hey, this game can be taken away from you at any point or time.’ Every day I wake up, I’m thankful to God and I appreciate the opportunity I’ve been given. I don’t take anything for granted so I give it 110-percent each day.” –RM
“I remember him still driving the same car that he’s had for many years. He’s very low-key, really not flashy or flamboyant. What you see is what you get.” –TB
“He’s the type of guy who makes sure you don’t feel sorry about the draft. He’ll tell you it’s just another way to get into the league – ‘You got drafted; it’s over with, now you have to show the teams what you’re about.’ That’s one thing he showed me – don’t put a third-round tag over his head. Don’t look at him like a third-rounder. Look at him as a starter on a great defense. He basically can do everything for us and he teaches us at the same time. He shows us a lot on the field.” –RJF
“Ray McDonald has been given nothing and Ray McDonald has had to overcome big things. And he has. The one thing I’ll tell you with Ray, the head’s never down, the attitude is never bad. He fights through everything and keeps pressing on. You see his work ethic – everybody here sees it. It’s constant. It never stops. The physical aspects of it – the mental aspects of it – the training room aspects of it. He’s unbelievable in his approach, but that’s just who Ray is. It’s his makeup.” –JT
“It’s been a long road for me. Those knee surgeries really made me appreciate the game. I enjoy every Sunday, every snap.” –RM
SCENE 2 – GAME TAPE.
“We want to be perfect. We know we haven’t been perfect, that’s why we go in there and watch film every day.” –RM
“The thing that stands out to be about Ray is the quality of his play. He’s one of the best interior linemen in the NFL. He does a great job of playing the run and rushing the passer. We wouldn’t want anyone else doing that job for us.” –VF
“He’s a very important piece to our defense, our front line. Ray’s one of those guys that doesn’t get a lot of credit for what he does because a lot of people don’t understand our scheme of defense and the work he puts in to keep those offensive linemen off our linebackers. They don’t know about all the double teams he has to take on. We see it on film, he’s taking on double-teams and still making tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He’s still getting sacks, making tips, stuff like that. He’s a very important part of our defense and we’re glad to have him here.” –DG
“He does a lot for the team – he sets the tempo. He’s a straight-forward guy – he gets straight to the point. He’s not going to give you a story. He’s probably one of the strongest guys on the team and can teach a lot of the young guys more things than what we see on the actual film.” –RJF
“He does the job that doesn’t get glory, but he does it well. Go and ask Pat (Willis), (NaVorro) Bow (Man), you can ask anybody, they all know he’s helping the linebackers by taking on double-teams so they can run free. That’s what he does and he does it really well. He’s powerful. He’s strong. And he understands the game. He understands what teams do to him from his preparation during the week. That’s why he’s able to do everything so well.” –PH
“He’s a hard-working guy. All of us as D-linemen, we’re always competing against each other and trying to keep up with one another. Ray is definitely one of those guys that sets the tempo. He’s one of the strongest guys on our team and in the NFL. So you always want to keep up with him.” – JS
SCENE 3 – ULTIMATE TEAMMATE.
“The thing about Ray is a lot of people see what they see on Sundays, but in all actuality, he’s quiet. On Sundays, he’s not quiet. But the thing about him is he goes about his business as far as learning and game preparation. When it comes to that he’s about as serious as anyone I’ve ever known.” –PH
“He’s all about making plays and helping the team win. He went through that in college, won a National Championship and it’s something he is used to. Talking to him, it’s something he expects. In the past he’s said, ‘I’ve never dealt with a losing team or season or situation.’ Just the way he handles it, he expects to win and doesn’t celebrate when it happens.” –JS
“I’m real thankful. In my career I’ve been surrounded by guys who were older and were willing to teach me tidbits the game has. Justin, he’s been doing it since he’s been here. You don’t have to, but he’s been like the angel on my shoulder I guess for the past four years. And Jimmy’s (Tomsula) on my other shoulder. Jimmy’s a great guy, I love Jimmy. When he called me on draft day and told me he was going to bring me in, I already knew what I was in store for. I knew what kind of guy he was when I met him at the combine and he’s the same guy every day. He’s a good guy, who will always give it to you straight. He’s a hard worker. You want to be around guys like that.” –RM
“Quiet. Low-key. Dominant force on the field. If you ever met him or had the opportunity to meet him, you’d never think he was as explosive or as dominant as he is, he’s not very vocal. He doesn’t say too much, but he has that little look that he’s ready to work every day.” –TB
SCENE 4 – NO SACK DANCE NECESSARY.
“He’s extremely quiet until you get him going on something. But yeah, he’s extremely comfortable with silence which I find odd, but whatever.” –JS
“I don’t really have a sack dance – I don’t. I feel like celebrations are made for after the game. If you celebrate by yourself, you’re kind of glorifying yourself and I’m not really with that. I’d rather celebrate with my teammates and come up with some kind of dance with them than try to glorify myself – I’d rather wait until after the game to celebrate.” –RM
“I told him he doesn’t have rhythm. Ray can get up and walk back to the huddle looking real hard, but him having a sack dance? No. Ray has no rhythm. I can say that hands-down.” –RJF
“You always have respect for those type of guys because they’re blue-collar guys. They come in every day and just work. They don’t want recognition; they just want to do their jobs and be solid and just keep being a force on the field. You always praise those guys when you get an opportunity because they’re not going to do it themselves.” –TB
SCENE 5 – FRANK SINATRA.
“I could say I’m pretty plain, but I’m open to things. I listen to different music.” –RM.
“What do I know about Ray? I know he listens to Frank Sinatra.” –PH
“I’d say I became a fan about three years ago. This older dude I used to hang out with showed it to me. I had heard of Frank Sinatra before, but he played a few songs and I took a liking to it.” –RM
“Ray shocked me, he was playing music one day and he played Frank Sinatra. He shocked me. When he had that playing, that opened my eyes about Ray. I thought he was not the type of guy to play music like that, but he shocked me when he played that music.” –RJF
“’Fly me to the moon,’ – I like that one. There’s another one (I like)… I listen to it before the game. ‘Come fly with me,’ – I like that. ‘I’ve got you under my skin.’ – that’s a good one, too.” – RM
“Ray kind of reminds you of ‘Old Blue Eyes.’ That’s Ray – he’s a cool cat… Nothing surprises me about Ray. He’s really a unique guy, an awesome guy. But yeah, I could see that, I knew there was something I really dug about Ray.” –JT
SCENE 6 – EVERYONE LOVES RAY.
“I’d agree with that. Everybody likes him as a teammate and you’ve got to respect the way he plays and competes.” –JS
“Very true, hands-down. He’s one of the favorites in this locker room, favorites on this team and definitely a leader in my eyes.” –TB
“Absolutely. You know everybody loves Ray… sometimes.” –PH
“Everybody loves Ray-Ray! Of course everybody appreciates Ray. He’s a hard-worker, one of the strongest dudes on our team. He works hard every day and it shows on Sundays.” –DG
“Everybody loves Ray? Yeah, everybody loves Ray – I love Ray. Yeah, I believe it.” –JT
“They do because he’s a team-player. He’s a great player and when you’re a team player and a great player, what’s not to like?” –VF
“I think you receive what you give. I know I’m a good guy to people. In return, they want to be a good guy back to me – that’s what that means to me. Everybody loves Ray because they know what type of person they’re getting. I’m not going to talk behind anybody’s back. I’m going to come in, work hard and treat everyone with respect. I think that’s why everybody is cool with me. They give me what I give them and that’s respect.” –RM
Tags: Dashon Goldson, Jim Tomsula, Justin Smith, Parys Haralson, Ray McDonald, Ricky Jean-Francois, Tarell Brown, Vic Fangio
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