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Vance McDonald has played more than half the 49ers offensive snaps and has just eight receptions for 119 yards. (USATSI)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Vance McDonald was a slot receiver during most of his time at Rice University, where he caught 119 passes and 15 touchdowns in four seasons.
But he has not provided the 49ers with the same kind of receiving threat as a rookie after the 49ers invested a second-round pick in him. Despite playing in 15 games during the regular season and playing more than half of the team’s total offensive snaps, McDonald has just eight receptions for 119 yards. He did not have a reception in the 49ers' playoff victory last week over the Green Bay Packers, either.
Where he’s made his mark with the 49ers in recent games is as a blocker. McDonald had an excellent block on Frank Gore’s 10-yard touchdown run in Green Bay. And he has also teamed with Vernon Davis to provide good blocks on recent bubble screens to wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
As a receiver, McDonald’s big chance came in Week 10 against the Carolina Panthers -- the team the 49ers face Sunday in an NFC divisional-round playoff game. Davis and third-string tight end Garrett Celek were injured and did not play most of the game.
“It was an opportunity I was really looking forward to and I had wanted since I got here,” McDonald said. “Things didn’t go perfectly. It was something I definitely needed and there were a lot of things to take from the game to learn from.”
The biggest thing that did not go perfectly was a deep pass down the seam that could have placed the 49ers in field-goal position in the fourth quarter. McDonald had both hands on the well-thrown pass from Colin Kaepernick, but Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly pulled away McDonald’s arm shortly after the ball arrived to break up the pass.
“I know it was a great play that Luke Kuechly made, and you just have to make the next one,” McDonald said.
McDonald said he has learned to have a short memory, so he has not dwelled too much on the play this week as the 49ers prepare to face the Panthers again. But he said he learned a lesson.
“Yeah, attacking the ball,” McDonald said. “It’s something we talk about now. Even in the cold-weather game, the ball doesn’t fly as well in Green Bay, so attacking the ball. That’s something I should’ve done.”