McDonald: Ready to Handle Competition

Browns cornerback Brandon McDonald battled back in 2008 and is ready for competition in 2009. Steve King takes a look at the Cleveland Browns third-year defensive back as he tries to fit in under a new head coach and defensive coordinator...

Learn a new defensive system under a new coaching staff?

No problem, if your name is Brandon McDonald.

After what the Browns cornerback went through last season, he ought to be able to handle just about anything now.

McDonald was given the starting job opposite Eric Wright based on what he had done down the stretch in his rookie season of 2007, plus the fact the Browns had traded veteran Leigh Bodden in the offseason to get nose tackle Shaun Rogers. He generally played pretty well, but as is the case with any second-year player, especially at cornerback, which is one of the hardest positions in the NFL to learn, there were some bumps in the road.

Some major bumps in the road, like crater-sized potholes in which you could lose your car -- er career.

They came against the Denver Broncos at Cleveland in a nationally-televised Thursday night game. The Browns rolled to a 23-10 third-quarter lead, only to have the Broncos pass their way back into the contest – at the expense of McDonald a good deal of the time – en route to gaining a 34-30 win.

The loss, coming just four days after a similar 37-27 home defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in which the Browns had failed to hold a 27-13 edge in the third quarter, effectively ended their season, dropping them to 3-6. They went 1-6 the rest of the way to finish 4-12.

The Browns were devastated. McDonald was devastated. He had been overwhelmed in front of the whole country.

It was the moment of truth for both. The Browns and McDonald had reached a fork in the road. They could either continue to tumble into oblivion, or pick themselves up and make efforts to turn things around.

The team never recovered, but McDonald did.

It wasn't easy, though.

"You're going to get beat on plays," McDonald said after Tuesday's OTA practice. "That's just the way this league is. That's just the way this position is. I'm good at forgetting about what happened and moving on. I'm a forget-it type of guy. But what happened that night was big.

"I vowed after the game that I was going to get better, so the next day, I got in the film room and began identifying my mistakes and what I needed to do to correct them."

As a reminder that his play needed to improve, then Browns head coach Romeo Crennel benched McDonald for the next game, a Monday nighter at Buffalo.

"That happens when you're not performing," McDonald said with a smile.

He can afford to smile now, for the "benching" lasted for just the opening play. Then McDonald went in for Travis Daniels and finished the game, getting his first interception in five contests as the Browns rallied to win 29-27. In addition, he forced a fumble, made six tackles and broke up a pass.

It started a trend in a positive direction. A month later, he had his best game as a pro, intercepting two passes for a franchise-record 122 yards (breaking a 48-year-old mark) at Philadelphia in another Monday nighter. Starting five yards deep in his own end zone, he had a 98-yarder on the final play of the first half and was finally tackled at the Philadelphia 7 as he ran out of gas. Then in the fourth quarter, he returned one 24 yards for his first career TD.

It didn't result in a win – the Eagles cruised 30-10 – but it did result in McDonald continuing to get his mojo back.

In between the Philadelphia and Buffalo games, he got another pick, against the Indianapolis  Colts.

Add it all up, and it enabled McDonald to lead the team in interceptions with five, and in passes broken up with 17. His was also the only defensive TD turned in by the Browns all year.

"I'm a real competitive guy," he said. "After what happened against the Broncos, I did not want to end the year on a bad note."

Mission accomplished.

But in the offseason, new head coach Eric Mangini brought in a slew of new cornerbacks through the NFL Draft and free agency, including veteran Rod Hood, who had spent the last three seasons with Mangini as a member of the New York Jets.

"It will up the level of competition," McDonald said of the presence of Hood and the others.

But McDonald seems up to the challenge, and in fact may be making a favorable impression already. He got some kudos earlier Tuesday from none other than Mangini.

"Brandon is tough at the line of scrimmage, and he finishes plays well," the coach said. "He has really good feet and really good ball skills.

"He's also very intelligent. I brought him to the board the other day and asked him to diagram the whole defense on a certain play, and he was able to do it."

Maybe that's why McDonald is quickly picking up this new version of the 3-4 defense the Browns will run under Mangini and new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

"It's really not that complicated," McDonald said. "You're a cornerback, so you're playing either man-to-man or zone. You're trying to cover a guy and keep him from catching the pass. But if he does catch it, then you have to get him down."

Sounds simple enough – certainly a lot simpler, and easier, than trying to rebound from a potentially career-damaging game.

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