ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher said he could tell right away that safety T.J. McDonald had an NFL pedigree.
"You see it in his play, but you noticed it immediately as soon as you met him in the (NFL) combine interview," Fisher said. "You got a good sense for his understanding. He knows the game. He knows both sides.
"What's impressive about him is has a really good understanding of offense. A lot of guys will come with a good understanding of the defense and the concepts of what they are supposed to do, but he's light years ahead from an offensive standpoint."
McDonald, the son of former St. Louis-Phoenix Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers safety Tim McDonald, was selected by the Rams in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft.
McDonald, a two-time team captain and Most Valuable Player at Southern California, admitted that having a father who played in the NFL gives him a leg up in making the transition from college to the professional ranks. Tim McDonald now serves as defensive backs coach for the New York Jets.
"It makes it so that I ask the question, 'Why?"' McDonald said. "Once I understand why, I can go out there and do it. I still have a long ways to go. I'm still learning. I don't think I'll ever stop learning. It does give me a little help knowing my background of the game."
McDonald said his father had some simple advice for him.
"The biggest thing was keep doing what I have been doing," McDonald said. "Don't change up anything. Ask questions, keep studying film and take advantage of every opportunity they give you. Every rep that I get out here is an opportunity, and I have to make sure I go out there and make my presence felt on the field."
McDonald is vying for playing time this season among the Rams' extremely young group of safeties.
Darian Stewart, who is heading into his fourth season in the NFL, is the veteran among the Rams' safeties.
There's also second-year players Matt Daniels and Rodney McLeod and rookie Cody Davis.
"I'm excited so far," Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton said of the safety position. "You've gotten a chance to see T.J. come in and get a lot of reps right now. He's been able to step in and pick up things fast. Then you have Rodney McLeod that's showing a lot of good things. He was on the team last year and showed his athletic ability.
"I'm impressed by the way guys pick things up, the learning curve of those guys. Then you have (Darian) Stewart that's the same way. Those three guys, we think that we'll have a great group of guys that will be able to help us a lot."
McDonald said his greatest challenge at this point is learning the Rams' defense.
"Everything is mental," McDonald said. "I feel like physically I can compete with everybody out here. It's just learning the playbook.
"The checks, the communication, the terminology, that stuff is all different. That's the biggest thing you have to get used to. You may have called something one thing in college and now you call it something different here."
McDonald said he doesn't mind spending extra time studying the playbook.
"This is what I love to do," McDonald said. "I don't see it necessarily as a chore. The best thing about it is when you come out on this field and see it pay off.
"When you execute the right stuff, it makes you want to keep going, keep digging into that playbook and getting better."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.