TJ McDonald vs. Stanford
Against Stanford, it's clear that bigger players like Zach Ertz and Stepfan Taylor gave him problems. That's partially because of his wild tackling- he didn't use his momentum to the fullest extent and also went high, allowing Taylor to brush him off more than once.
McDonald also was burnt more than once on juke plays and QB runs (which could be problematic in the NFC West), and seemed to have problems against players who had open space to move around. McDonald excelled on being in the box, blitzing, and causing havoc at or behind the line of scrimmage. It appeared as though he was more comfortable there.
TJ McDonald vs. UCLA
Against UCLA, McDonald had some problems with taking the correct angles to the ball carrier, which resulted in a large gain from a screen. Once again, he impressed in the box and had a clear nose for the ball in that regard. He had an excellent interception in the end-zone by reading the QB and jumping the route.
Again in the red-zone, McDonald did an excellent job of tracking the QB after a busted pitch play, and ended up with a sack and a forced fumble (which went out of bounds). Again, McDonald looked more comfortable in the box.
TJ McDonald vs. Oregon
McDonald displayed his special teams acumen, by blocking a punt. This is an area where he could step in right away and make an impact for the Rams.
On some of the short, quick screens, he had trouble disengaging blockers, allowing the runner to break free more than once. He a lot a of trouble early in the game, but in the 4th quarter, McDonald stiffened up and was excellent against the run, stopping more than one play from becoming a home run.
McDonald overall has a good football intelligence. He's especially good as a run defender, because he's often right in the mix and is comfortable in the box. He's most likely going to fit in as a strong safety for the Rams, mainly because he's clunky in man coverage and doesn't have quick enough reactions to go toe-to-toe with the best receivers.
To me, he'd be a bad fit as a one deep safety, but could be decent in a cover two. He clearly can step right in and produce on special teams, where he displayed a good knack for the ball by blocking both punts and field goals.
The real problem with McDonald is that his tackling technique is terrible- he doesn't wrap up, he wastes extra motion, and gets too high, allowing strong runners to brush him aside. This should be the primary focus for the coaching staff, and depending how long it takes to teach him, there could be some major growing pains.
It's clear McDonald needs work. He's not a good tackler, but he's an instinctual defender who could excel in run support if he is taught to tackle correctly. USC used him as a hybrid linebacker-safety as a robber in coverage, and I think he'd fit right in where Quintin Mikell once was, at least for the time being.
If the Rams play to McDonald's strengths of blitzing, special teams and run support, he could make an immediate impact. I have a feeling with some good coaching and an off season in an NFL weight training program, McDonald could surprise many in 2013.
2012 Games Watched: Stanford, Oregon, UCLA, Cal