Father knows best, which means Rams rookie McDonald knows a lot too

ST. LOUIS — T.J. McDonald knows his dad played a role in this.

“It definitely helps, knowing my background in the game,” the St. Louis Rams’ rookie safety said. “But I’ve still got a long way to go. I’m just going to try to keep getting better.”

And that, after a recent Rams organized team activity ended, was about as much as T.J. McDonald wanted to discuss his father, Tim McDonald, whose football career is often intertwined with his own.

Both spent their college years playing safety at USC. Both went on to the NFL, where their first shot came in St. Louis — the father’s with the since-departed Cardinals, and the son’s with the current Rams, who selected him in the third round in April.

But Tim McDonald forged a 13-year-long career that included six trips to Pro Bowls between 1987 and 1999. His son’s professional football journey is just beginning. For that reason, the rookie is smart to downplay his apparent family gene for NFL success.

His father’s fingerprints are on his game, though, more so than he may even know. St. Louis coaches see it. Especially Jeff Fisher, who coached Tim McDonald in San Francisco in 1993.

Some of the comparisons are physical. (The father played at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds; the son is 6-3, 205). Others are more abstract, and more important.

With a rookie minicamp and two sessions of OTAs in the books, Fisher and his assistants have raved about T.J. McDonald’s mind. Turns out having grown up with an All-Pro safety tends to ease a young man’s transition from college to the NFL.

“He’s been around football all his life, and he picks up things very well,” Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton said. “It’s a short learning curve for him.”

“He knows the game,” Fisher added after the Rams’ final open OTA on Thursday. “He knows both sides. What’s impressive about him is that he has a really good understanding of offense. A lot of guys will come in with an understanding of the defense and concepts of what they’re supposed to do, but he’s light years ahead from an offensive standpoint.”

Those are two pretty good reviews for a player who will be fighting for a starting spot in the secondary when training camp begins. When the competition resumes, T.J. McDonald will follow the same advice his father gave him before he came to St. Louis this spring.

“The biggest thing was just keep doing what I’ve been doing,” the rookie said of his dad’s message. “Don’t change up anything. Ask questions. Keep studying film. Take advantage of every opportunity they give me.”

Sounds like the kid has delivered so far.

Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at frederickson.ben@gmail.com.