Rookie Vance McDonald aims for immediate contribution
Vance McDonald: "A lot of people say football’s football, but this offense is like speaking a different language." (AP)
The first thing that strikes a person about Vance McDonald is his size. At 6-foot-4, the 49ers second-round draft pick isn’t the tallest tight end in the NFL. But at nearly 270 pounds, he is one of the biggest, outweighing Vernon Davis by 17 pounds. That’s a large target.
“I was known to be more of a receiving tight end [in college], but here, I’m looking to play about fifty-fifty,” McDonald said. “It’s a different game, different animal here at the NFL. You’re blocking better guys on the end and in the center, so getting techniques down as far as blocking goes is a big part of what I’m trying to do.”
The 49ers knew what they were doing when they bunked McDonald with 6-feet-7, 305-pound tackle Carter Bykowski during this offseason. The rookies not only studied blocking schemes together in their hotel room, they built a chemistry that’s starting to translate onto the field.
“Lining up next to him,” McDonald explained, “we kind of have a good back and forth already.”
McDonald’s blocking compliments a solid set of hands. He averaged nearly 13 yards a catch during his career at Rice, and ended his time with the Owls among the school’s top seven in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. But his most valuable strength to the 49ers is his versatility.
“A lot of what we do here is playing a lot of positions, especially the tight ends,” McDonald explained after practice during the third week of OTAs. “I guess we all have a lot of special, unique talents. [I’m] Just getting a general knowledge of all the positions on the field and how concepts work.”
McDonald has played linebacker, defensive end, even long snapper when called upon, and excelled in basketball and track and field in high school. Like Davis, he has the potential to be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, but his first goal is to master San Francisco’s offense.
“A lot of people say football’s football, but this offense is like speaking a different language,” McDonald said. “You come in, you have to learn from step one. It’s a lot to handle but as long as you….kind of slow down every day and take the new stuff that we put in and try to learn it and put it to application, it goes OK.”
McDonald says his head is not spinning as much as it was when he first started his NFL career a short month ago, but offensive coordinator Greg Roman is not making anything easy for any of the new players.
“Coach Roman holds us to a high standard, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. He expects a lot out of us and it’s good because it’s pressure. You have no choice, you have to learn it.
“It’s kind of a step-by-step thing. Progressing from our basic stuff to a little bit more specific stuff. We’re getting into the thick of it now I guess you could say. But you have to remember what you did the day before before you can move on. That’s the hard part.”
Not that the Southeast Texas native is complaining. He is clear. He can handle the workload in Santa Clara just fine. The thought of going back to his hometown of Winnie is difficult to fathom.
“Ooh, it’s like 100 degrees with 200 percent humidity,” McDonald shuddered. “When I hear someone complain about the weather here I turn my head away and I just walk away.
“This is just an unbelievable place.”