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McDonald Enjoys Mentorship Role

Posted May 23, 2013

Veterans on the defensive line like Ray McDonald have been active mentors to the incoming rookie group.

The 49ers selected two defensive linemen in the 2013 NFL Draft and added two more as undrafted free agents.

Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula has plenty of talent to work with his incoming rookies, but he’s not the only one giving instruction.

Veterans on the defensive line like Ray McDonald and Justin Smith have been active mentors to the incoming rookie group of Tank Carradine, Quinton Dial, Lawrence Okoye and Mike Purcell.

McDonald, a seven-year veteran, has been with Tomsula his entire career in San Francisco. The 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive tackle has a firm grasp of defensive line techniques and has been eager to share them with rookie teammates.

Consider it to be “The Forty Niner Way.”

“We don’t want to be seen as older guys who don’t want to help the younger fellas,” said McDonald, who totaled 106 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble in 2012. “It’s good that we have guys here who we can help, take them under our wings and show them the ropes.”

The mentoring relationship has been increasingly important with Okoye, a former Olympic discus thrower who was also accepted to study law at Oxford University.

“He’s smart and has great athleticism,” McDonald, the established defensive tackle said. “It’ll be cool to see how he progresses.”

Tomsula has spent a great deal of individual periods fine tuning Okoye’s stance and footwork. The defensive line coach has taken a steady step-by-step approach with Okoye and it appears to be working. Okoye, a 6-foot-6, 304-pound athlete with a rugby background, continues to improve with every day he’s soaking up information at 49ers headquarters.

“He wants to learn, he wants to get better,” McDonald noted. “He’s never played football before, but he wants to learn to get better and that’s all we’re looking for, guys who want to get better.”

McDonald, too, is not above picking up additional insight. The hard-working defensive lineman has become a quiet force in one of the best front-sevens in professional football. Even so, McDonald is using Organized Team Activities to have his best season yet.

“It’s good to get back into the swing of things,” McDonald said. “It’s fun to get back out there with the fellas and it’s good to have everybody back. It’s good to be back because everyone’s spread out when the season is over.”

The 49ers defensive line group remains a tight-knit group. Despite losing Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois in free agency, McDonald is looking forward to seeing who lines up nose tackle when the season begins on Sept. 8.

“Its’ going to be real competitive,” McDonald said.

The team has a number of options to line up at nose tackle including Ian Williams, Glenn Dorsey, Tony Jerod-Eddie and Lamar Divens. The rookies, too, will have their chances to compete.

Williams and Dorsey appear to be the closest competition to anchor San Francisco’s 3-4 defense.

“They’re both athletic, strong and they’re smart,” McDonald noted. “It’s going to be a battle come training camp to get that spot but we feel comfortable with the guys we have.

“It’ll help the team out a lot.”

The “iron sharpens iron” sentiment is prevalent at 49ers headquarters. Competition at every position has been a hallmark of Jim Harbaugh’s coaching career in San Francisco.

And while McDonald feels secure as a starter as a left defensive tackle, he still wants to improve his standing amongst counterparts in the NFC. McDonald has not been to a Pro Bowl, but was selected as an alternate after the 2011 season.

“It’s motivation for me,” McDonald said. “I’m seeing the guys I’m playing with make it, I want to be a part of that.”

Six of San Francisco’s starters made the Pro Bowl last season and McDonald wants to join the group this coming season.

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work this offseason for me to make it to that point, but I’m looking forward to it.”


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