McDonald makes his presence felt
By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch

Although Sacramento Kings guard Mike Bibby, a former All-American at Arizona and the No. 2 overall selection in the 1998 NBA draft, is his cousin and confidant, Shaun McDonald figured out long ago that basketball wasn't his sport.

"I quit in eighth grade," he explained. "I kind of knew I wasn't going to be too tall, so I had to give that dream up real fast."

But McDonald is making a nice living as a professional athlete: He is in his second season as a wide receiver and punt returner with the Rams. Over the last two games, he has been a key factor in victories at San Francisco and Seattle.

McDonald's first NFL touchdown reception, on a 6-yard pass from quarterback Marc Bulger, put the Rams up 14-0 in the first quarter against the ***** at Monster Park. Bibby attended the game, won by the Rams 24-14, but he missed the TD catch.

"He got out of practice too late," McDonald said. "But it was great to see him."

McDonald made three big plays Sunday, when the Rams rallied past the Seahawks 33-27 in overtime:

His 24-yard catch, on a third-and-8 play, took the team to the 8-yard line. Bulger hit tight end Brandon Manumaleuna for a touchdown on the next play that cut Seattle's lead to 27-17 with 5 1/2 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Three plays later, McDonald lugged a punt 39 yards to the Seahawks 41-yard line. On the next snap, Bulger found wideout Kevin Curtis in the end zone, and it was 27-24 with 3:30 to go.

On the first series after Jeff Wilkins' 36-yard field goal with 8 seconds remaining forced overtime, Bulger spotted McDonald sprinting down the right size on a "hot" read in reaction to a Seahawks blitz. The pass hit McDonald on the fingertips, and the 52-yard TD ended the proceedings.

"Any time the ball's in the air, I think it's mine, I think I'm going to get it no matter what," he said. "The whole time, I was thinking, 'touchdown.' .. As a competitor, you want the game on the line and you want to be able to contribute to the play that wins it."

McDonald, a fourth-round draft pick last year, is listed at 5 feet 10, but he acknowledged that he's at least an inch shorter. He said he weighs 180 pounds -but probably only after a heavy meal.

"My whole life, people have been saying I'm too small to play football," said McDonald, a Phoenix native. "So it's something I'm used to. It doesn't really bother me anymore. I think it's about how big you play, and not about your size."

At Arizona State, McDonald's 2,993 receiving yards fell just 126 short of John Jefferson's school record. But largely because of a thumb injury that limited him to eight games, McDonald's impact last year as a rookie was only 10 catches for 62 yards, with a long gain of 13.

Coach Mike Martz said McDonald also needed time to adjust to the Rams' high-speed practice sessions.

"To come in and learn to practice the way our guys practice is hard on a receiver, the tempo and the conditioning that's required to practice like that," Martz said. "I think he understands now, being in the games, why that's the way it is: so at the end of the game, you still have your speed."

McDonald, whose 40-yard dash time coming out of college was listed at 4.51, had plenty of speed left to blow past Seahawks safety Terreal Bierria, who desperately tried to latch onto McDonald's jersey, on the final play Sunday.

"The only thing with he and (Curtis) is just getting opportunities and building their confidence," veteran Isaac Bruce said. "That's the only thing. We always knew they could play. It's showing on the field on Sundays now."

McDonald said playing behind Bruce and Torry Holt, arguably the top wideout tandem in the NFL, has accelerated his progress.

"I think this is the best situation for me," he said, "because learning from two of the best in the league is going to help as far as my technique and my skills."

In addition, McDonald gets to see their intangibles. McDonald said he immediately was impressed by "just how hard they go out and compete. They don't ever want to be shown up, whether it's practice or ... anything. That kind of gets in you."

In turn, the emergence of McDonald and Curtis, the team's third-round pick last year, takes some defensive pressure off Bruce and Holt.

"It means a lot for this team, not just for myself and Torry," Bruce said. "It gives us another dimension in special teams, too, with 'Mac' running back punts."

McDonald's versatility extends even further: A standout soccer player as a youngster and a kicker and punter in high school, he would step in should Jeff Wilkins go down.

"Only in an emergency," McDonald said, laughing.