McDonald, Smith form fine DE duo

McDonald, Smith form fine DE duo
October 26, 2011, 2:28 pm
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SANTA CLARA -- If you wanted to see Ray McDonald in the summer months during the NFL lockout, all you had to do was find Justin Smith. The odds were pretty good that the two 49ers defensive linemen were working out with each other.
McDonald's game has taken off this season as a starter for the 49ers at left defensive end. He clearly has benefited from being around Smith, who starts at right defensive end and usually plays every defensive snap.Coach Jim Harbaugh might have given the 49ers a full six days off during the bye week, but McDonald and Smith were regulars at the team's practice facility last week -- just as they were regulars almost every day during the lockout at San Jose State's workout facilities."I always joke with him about how old he is," McDonald said. "But you know what? When I was in high school I was a big fan of his because I liked the way he played."In 2008, McDonald's second NFL season, the 49ers signed Smith to a six-year contract as a free agent from the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I wanted to pick his brain and see what kind of guy he was," McDonald said. "He turned out to be a real good guy. We both love the game of football. Both of us are down-to-earth, cool people. When there are two people like that, you get along real well."McDonald, 27, remained in-state and went to Florida. Likewise, Smith, 32, remained close to home to go to Missouri. And neither strayed too far from home during the bye week, either."I just wanted to stay here and stay in the football mindset," McDonald said. "I wanted to be here and kick back and relax. And I didn't want to have all that jet lag coming back."It's no coincidence that Smith (4.5) and McDonald (3) have combined for 7.5 sacks in the first six games -- a large figure for defensive ends in a 3-4 defense. After all, they worked out hard on their own and talked shop during the lockout just to be ready when the NFL finally opened its doors for business."We worked out quite a bit," McDonald said. "He has a wife and kids, so I let him do his family thing. And I did my own thing, too. But when we can, we try to hang out and talk football."McDonald went through the offseason with the uncertainty of being unsigned. When the lockout lifted, the 49ers and McDonald agreed to a five-year, 20 million contract.The 49ers invested more in McDonald than any other player in the offseason. The only higher-priced acquisition in the organization was coach Jim Harbaugh at five years, 25 million."When you're in a good situation, and I've been in a good situation the past four years, you want to stay in that place," McDonald said. "The grass isn't always greener on the other side. If I'd gone somewhere else, it wouldn't have been as good as it is. I probably wouldn't have clicked as well as Justin and I have clicked on this team."