T.J. McDonald has never shied away from the similarities between himself and his well-known father. They went to the same high school, played football at the same university (Southern California), and entered the NFL playing in St. Louis. And playing safety.
Unfortunately for McDonald, the similarities have continued into his rookie season with the Rams.
“His rookie year he breaks his foot, I break my leg,” McDonald said. “So the similarities are crazy. I talk about it with my mom all the time. Like, this is freaking me out. Something’s gotta change. I don’t know if I’ve got to go talk to some voodoo (person).”
Instead of voodoo, he got some advice from his father, Tim, now an assistant coach with the New York Jets.
“The biggest thing that he told me was just don’t forget how you got to the point where you were before you got hurt,” McDonald said.
McDonald didn’t. After going down with the broken leg in Game 4 against San Francisco, McDonald said he “probably worked as hard as I’ve ever worked to get back on the field. I haven’t worked this hard in my life.”
McDonald got back on the field Wednesday, his first practice since the injury occurred seven weeks ago today.
“He’s coming along,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “He did a lot of work (on the side) last week outside and inside. It’s a confidence factor now, but we’ll continue to give him reps.”
“It felt good to be out there, put the cleats on, get back out there with the fellas,” McDonald said.
Were it not for the new injured reserve/designated for return rule, McDonald probably would’ve been done for the season following the injury. That’s what happened with his father’s foot injury during his rookie year (1987) with the St. Louis Cardinals.
But thanks to the IR/designated for return rule, McDonald could be in the lineup as early as the Rams’ Dec. 1 contest at San Francisco. Under the rule, an injured player must sit out at least six weeks before he returns to practice. Once he returns to practice, he must practice at least two weeks before being placed on the active roster.
For McDonald, the six-week period without practicing ended after the Indianapolis game. With his first practice Wednesday during the team’s bye week, he can return to the 53-man roster following the Chicago game Nov. 24.
“I feel better every day,” McDonald said. “I’ve still got a little ways to go as far as rehabbing, getting it stronger, getting as explosive as I can.”
Exactly when he’s ready for game action remains to be seen. But whether it’s the final five or four games of 2013, it can only help his development as the team’s starting strong safety.
Before this injury, McDonald said he had missed only one game since he started playing little league football, and that came during his sophomore year at USC. So the long rehab process has been something new for him.
“First few weeks, I couldn’t even move it,” McDonald said. “I was in a boot and had to keep (the leg) elevated.”
Eventually, McDonald did exercises to get strength back in the muscles around the injury. Then came jump-roping. Change-of-direction drills. Jogging. Running. And now practicing. McDonald likened the process to learning how to run all over again.
McDonald was drafted in the third round last April to upgrade the safety position. The Rams released Quintin Mikell (now with Carolina) and made little to no effort to re-sign Craig Dahl (now with San Francisco).
Safety has been perhaps the weakest position overall on the roster. But before the injury, McDonald felt he was making progress and getting accustomed to the NFL game.
“I felt confident even in the games maybe that we didn’t play as well as we wanted to,” he said. “I felt like I was making strides every week and getting more comfortable with the defense.”
McDonald was part of a scaled-down group taking part in Wednesday’s practice. Ten members of the active roster did not take part, and several of those in uniform did nothing more than warm up. Coach Jeff Fisher indicated at the start of the week that he would hold some veterans out of practice Wednesday and Thursday.
Back on the practice field after sitting out the Indianapolis game with a fractured finger was tight end Lance Kendricks.
“Just tried to catch some balls and block a little bit to see how it felt,” Kendricks said. “It feels pretty good overall for what it is. I think by next week (Chicago) I should be good to go.”
Kendricks wore what might be best described as a hand splint Wednesday to protect the finger. He said catching the football came easier than blocking with the injury.
“I’m gonna try to stay off of it as much as I can and get the pain down,” he said.