Cornerback Dexter McDonald
Dexter McDonald has waited a long time for his opportunity in the NFL, and the past few weeks he's received his chance.
The former University of Kansas Jayhawk joined the Oakland Raiders in 2015 when the team drafted him in the seventh-round (No. 242 overall). The rangy 6'1", 200-pound cornerback totaled four interceptions, 81 tackles, 23 passes defensed, and one fumble recovery during his tenure at Kansas, and has been itching for his moment in the league since being drafted.
The first two seasons of No. 23's career, he played a total of six games, but it's been in his third season when he's truly had his opportunity to shine. With fellow cornerback David Amerson being sidelined with an injury a majority of the 2017 campaign, McDonald has been asked to fill in. Through 12 games so far, he's played in 11 of them, and started in three, which has led to some improvement in his game.
"I've been waiting on this opportunity," McDonald said. "The more comfortable I get on the field the better I can get as a player, and play fast."
Until this season, McDonald had never registered a pass defensed, but he's currently up to five this year, and had two in last week's game against the New York Giants. Both plays came in crucial situations where the defense needed to stand its ground; he'd go onto finish the afternoon with four tackles.
To his teammates, his playmaking is nothing new.
"'Dex' has been doing that for a long time," said cornerback TJ Carrie. "None of us are unaware of his performance. He's been doing that since OTAs [Organized Team Activities], training camp, and even in the preseason, so it was good to get him out there and get some live reps, and showcase his talents."
As Carrie said, to his teammates and those around him McDonald's recent play comes as no surprise; it was just a matter of time. Getting an opportunity in the NFL is a lot easier said than done, but when it comes, you have to be prepared, and that's exactly how McDonald has approached the game.
"For me I think being ready is important," he continued. "I try to make sure that I'm prepared every week. Whether I'm playing or not, knowing how much time I'm going to get, I try to prepare as if I'm going to play."
While the 26 year old has been asked to fill in for his teammate, Amerson has continued to serve as mentor for him, and has helped him stay confident on the field.
"With him being down I just had that next man up mentality," McDonald explained. "Had to make sure I look at the guys, he's a great example to learn from. I still lean on him for examples and stuff to make sure I'm prepared for what's going on, on the field."
McDonald's success has not only come as a pleasant sign for Raiders fans, as he's helped the defense compete, but his teammates are happy to see him exceling in his current role. As Carrie said, he's been giving it his all in OTAs, training camp, and the preseason, just waiting for his chance to show what he's capable of. Often times players never get that chance, or wind up on a new team before they get their shot, but on the Raiders he's getting his moment, and his teammates couldn't be happier for him.
"It means a lot man, we're all super excited for him," Carrie said with a smile. "We all feed off each other's energy, so any time another one of us can step up into that role and play at a huge level, high, successful, we're excited,, man. That's something that brings our group together."
Even though the third-year pro has strung together a few quality performances, he's cognizant that the work isn't over yet, and the team has a big road game looming.
"I think we just focus on the little things and make sure we understand our game plan," McDonald said when asked about the team's preparation for the Kansas City Chiefs. "Take away explosive plays, and make sure we stay on top as a defensive back group."
Whether he continues to see increased playing time or not, McDonald has proved he's making the most of his opportunities, and will continue doing whatever he can to help the team win.