|49ers DT Ray McDonald (91) has become an expert at flushing quarterbacks to waiting teammates. (US Presswire)|
NEW ORLEANS -- Defensive tackle Ray McDonald is a quiet force behind San Francisco's big-play defense. He's so far in the background, he didn't appear at all among the in-demand players on any of the three days of media interviews this week at the 49ers' hotel.
This, for a guy CBSSports.com columnist Pete Prisco ranked No. 12 among the 46 starters in the Super Bowl and No. 5 among San Francisco defensive players.
“Somebody has to get the attention, and if it's not me, that's fine,” the soft-spoken McDonald said. “I'm cool with that. My teammates know what kind of player I am. The coaches and players around the league know what kind of player I am. That's all that matters. People pick and choose who they want to speak, but it doesn't bother me.”
Defensive linemen in 3-4 schemes normally do the dirty work, taking on multiple blockers and allowing the linebackers to make the big plays. McDonald filled that role well in the regular season, finishing with 38 tackles, but he has been more productive in the playoffs with nine tackles in two games.
His five stops against Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game tied a season-high and were one off his career-high in six seasons with San Francisco -- the last two as a starter.
“Ray takes up a double team on almost every play,” said 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith, the NFL record-holder for sacks in his first two seasons. “He does a lot that may not get on the stat sheet, but we all notice. He makes the quarterback uncomfortable, and he might push him my way or to (fellow outside linebacker) Ahmad (Brooks)'s way. It makes us getting a sack a little easier.”
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McDonald has one career interception, which he returned for a touchdown in 2010. He has forced and recovered only three fumbles. He has averaged two sacks per season.
Yet, the 49ers insist they would not have reached the Super Bowl without him. He is not as dominant as teammate Justin Smith, a four-time Pro Bowler who lines up on the opposite side of the line, but he fills his role.
“Ray gets a lot of pressure up the middle to make quarterbacks step up and do things that they don't want to do,” safety Donte Whitner said. “He backdoors a lot of guys with quickness and stops the run. He's an unsung hero.”
McDonald won a national championship as a fifth-year senior at Florida in 1996, splitting time between defensive end and tackle. That role prepared him for life in a 3-4, where the two outside linemen combine the jobs of ends and tackles.
The Gators didn't reach the SEC Championship Game in his first four seasons, and the 49ers did not make the NFL playoffs in his first four years.
If they beat the Ravens on Sunday, he will complete the rare double of having national championship and Super Bowl rings.
“We have a team full of guys that are willing to work hard, talented players, and we have a good coach (Jim Harbaugh) that came in (before 2011),” McDonald said. “I knew it was only a matter of time before we eventually got to this point, but it doesn't mean anything to get to it. It means something if we can win it all.”