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Against Tough Odds, McDonald Earns Roster Spot

Posted Sep 7, 2010

As training camp and the preseason unfolded in Green Bay, most observers could see the odds were pretty good that a couple of non-drafted rookies – linebacker Frank Zombo and cornerback Sam Shields – were going to make the team. But almost no one predicted a third non-drafted rookie would be joining them on the 53-man roster.

Offensive lineman Nick McDonald did survive the final cuts, however, despite a rocky start that included learning a brand new position. Coming from Division II Grand Valley State and being asked to play center for the first time in his life as well as guard, McDonald on paper was one of the longest of long shots as camp began, only to keep showing up on film every time the coaches reviewed the preseason games.

“Going into the Cleveland game (on Aug. 14), I think there were some questions – ‘Let’s see if he’s going to perform,’” McDonald said. “But I went out there and performed.

“I think I showed them that I’m tough. I get after the guys. I’ve learned the offense as fast as I can. I think it all came down to the games.”

For McDonald, it had to, because in practice he confessed to struggling in the one-on-one pass-blocking drills against defensive linemen. He attributed part of that to the newness of the center position, which he was playing for a lot of those reps. But regardless, he knew he was inconsistent at best in the one-on-ones and needed to make up for that somehow.

He did by playing well in the team (11-on-11) portions of practice, and most importantly, in the games. By his own evaluation, McDonald felt he showed good footwork on inside zone runs and got movement against opposing defensive tackles. He also showed the athletic ability to make blocks at the second level against linebackers and to get out into the flat on screens.

He felt his biggest mistake may have come in the preseason finale at Kansas City last Thursday, a bad time to put a gaffe on film. He called it a mental error, trying too hard to get a good punch in pass protection and lunging at the defensive lineman, who swam over him and drilled quarterback Matt Flynn in the back just after he released the ball.

But following the Chiefs game there was nothing more he could do but sit and wait. On cut-down Saturday, he said he woke up at around 10 a.m. and immediately checked his phone. No missed calls, which was good, because no news is usually good news when roster decisions are being made.

Then in his hotel room, his home since the start of camp, he just kept waiting. And waiting. The 5 p.m. deadline passed and he still hadn’t heard anything until offensive line coach James Campen called him around 5:15 p.m. and congratulated him on making the team.

“It was pretty surreal,” McDonald said. “I didn’t know going into the day. I just thought whatever happens, happens. I gave everything I could in camp.

“It was pretty crazy though once I called my family. There were a lot of tears shed, that’s for sure.”

Earlier in the day, McDonald had heard that Zombo, his hotel neighbor and longtime athletic rival growing up in Sterling Heights, Mich., had made the team. After McDonald had officially survived as well, the two had a good laugh about their drive to training camp together, during which they joked about how they might be on the same road headed back to Michigan in a couple of weeks if things didn’t go well.

But now they’re both Packers, planning to get a place together in Green Bay and forming two-thirds of the largest contingent of non-drafted rookies to make the team in the Ted Thompson/Mike McCarthy era.

McDonald essentially beat out Evan Dietrich-Smith to join Jason Spitz as an interior backup on the offensive line. He’s currently listed on the depth chart as the No. 3 center and right guard, and with 10 offensive linemen on the roster he may not be on the active 45-man gameday roster unless there’s a spate of injuries.

He’s aware he still has the longest way to go at center, but that’s why he’s excited about his scout team role, which will be playing center for the “opposing” offense against the Packers’ defense in practice.

“I think it’s a fun position, it’s just a little different for me,” said McDonald, who started at right guard as a junior in college and then left tackle as a senior. “I think I’ll be able to keep getting better.

“We only get a couple reps, if that, with the (regular) offense, like one rep maybe. That’s it. Maybe even none. So you have to go out here on the scout team and perform. Coach Campen told me that I have to be ready to go every week. I have to know the offense. My role right now is to give a good look to the defense and if anything happens, be ready to go.”

He’ll take that role very seriously, even if some didn’t view his chances that way a month ago.

“It’s a team effort here, and I want to help this team,” McDonald said. “This is a great organization, great players, and I want to get better. That’s my main goal, and to get everyone else around me better. Everybody here is talking about winning the Super Bowl, and I want to be part of that.”

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