Ray McDonald has had a frustrating last ten months. The Gator defensive end played just two games at full health last season, before injuring his knee against Tennessee. He tried to come back too soon and eventually ended up with two torn anterior cruciate ligaments in his knees; forcing him to undergo months of physical re-habilitation.
Now McDonald is healed, cleared for action and raring to go. But he’s not getting to do very much. The first week of practice McDonald was relegated to the role of spectator while his teammates banged heads. That changes somewhat this week. “Today (Tuesday) was my first day doing pod drills and my second day of doing team,” McDonald told me after practice. “Yesterday I did about three plays in team and today I did about ten,” McDonald continued. “I’m working my way back in there, so I’m feeling pretty good about it.”
Florida Coach Urban Meyer is determined to play it smart where McDonald is concerned, “I don’t know how many times Ray McDonald needs to go in there and scrimmage and tackle”. Meyer still is eager to see McDonald out there for the 2006 season, “Ray is a football player, boy. It’s going to be great to see him.”
Florida Defensive Line coach and Co-Coordinator Greg Mattison says going slow with McDonald is the right thing to do, “We’ve got a whole three weeks yet so he’s getting more and more work.” Mattison says McDonald can do more than the Gators are letting him do. “He could go full speed today if I wanted him to,” Mattison insists. “I just don’t need him to do that; I need to bring up the next guy.”
The next guy is Derrick Harvey who has gotten a great deal of extra work this fall, just as he did during spring practice. It appears that work is paying off. “Derrick is showing that he’s playing play in and play out now,” Mattison says. “Derrick used to play four or five really good plays and then take a couple off. Right now he’s starting to say ‘I’m going to go every play. I’m going to do what coach wants and what this program wants and I’m going to play every play as hard as I can play.’”
For his part, McDonald has no complaint with the coaches bringing him along slowly. “My coaches know what they’re doing so I don’t feel like I’m being held back,” McDonald said. “They are being very cautious about what they are letting me do on the field do I won’t get hurt. I think they’re just looking out for me.”
The senior from Belle Glade says his teammates let him here about his part-time work load. “They’re giving me a little mess about it,” McDonald says. “But they know I’m gonna work hard when they let me on the field so it’s no big deal.”
Ray McDonald is a guy you have to root for and a guy who can make a huge difference in the Gator defense this fall. If McDonald and his teammates stay healthy and productive this year, Florida’s defensive end trio of McDonald, Harvey and Jarvis Moss will be as good as any in the country.