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Notebook 12/12: McDonald Finding His Footing After Returning From Injury

Posted Dec 12, 2013

For any rookie, the adjustment from the college game to the NFL can be a challenging one.

Adding in more than a month of time missed due to a leg injury can make things even more difficult. After a strong start to his professional career over the first three weeks of the regular season, rookie S T.J. McDonald suffered a broken fibula in the Rams’ Week 4 loss to San Francisco.

Since his return against Chicago on Nov. 24, McDonald has seen his production steadily increase. His nine total tackles against Arizona on Sunday represented a career-best.

“He’s getting better each week,” Head Coach Jeff Fisher said following Wednesday’s practice. “Difficult thing to come off as quickly as he did, but he’s getting better each week.”

The third-round draft choice out of Southern California gained much acclaim early on for his ability to step up and defend the run in addition to his work in coverage. That ability has been evidenced in his 42 total tackles on the year, despite only appearing in seven games. Following his injury, however, there was certainly a period of re-adjustment for McDonald. “When you come back, you have the excitement of, ‘Man, I get to practice again,’” McDonald said. “Then practice speed is not game speed. You go out there on the field and it’s like, OK, this is real again. It’s one of those things where you keep getting better with reps and with experience and I’m doing that now.”

Rookies frequently require a period of adjusting to the speed of the game at the professional level. Due to the timing of his injury, McDonald found himself making that adjustment a second time. Though McDonald admittedly wasn’t where he hoped to be immediately following his return in Week 12 against Chicago, the first-year safety has made steady progress since.

“You can see him starting to getting back into it,” defensive coordinator Tim Walton said. “He’s running around, he’s having fun and he’s being aggressive. It takes you a couple games to get back into it with that layoff, but you can see it, even in practice. He’s moving around well and we’re excited about it. He’s going to finish up very strong for us.”

News and Notes:

-Sunday will mark the Saints’ first visit to the Edward Jones Dome since 2011, when the Rams defeated the eventual NFC South champions 31-21.

-RB Zac Stacy has rushed for five touchdowns since Week 9 against Tennessee, the most by a Rams running back in a five-game span since Steven Jackson scored seven times in the final four games of the 2006 season.

-WR Austin Pettis enters Sunday with 30 receptions, equaling his career-best from a year ago. His four touchdown receptions also match a career-high.

Injury Report:

Rams:

WR Tavon Austin (ankle), CB Janoris Jenkins (back), RB Daryl Richardson (thigh) and G Harvey Dahl (knee) did not practice Thursday. CB Brandon McGee (foot) participated fully.

Saints:

S Rafael Bush (ankle), LB Keyunta Dawson (calf) and TE Josh Hill (hamstring) did not practice Thursday. DE Glenn Foster (knee) and DT Brodrick Bunkley (back) were limited. T Terron Armstead participated fully.

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