Published April 27, 2013
ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Rams addressed perhaps their neediest position in the third round of the NFL draft, selecting Southern California safety T.J. McDonald. Then they added another wide receiver from West Virginia, one even more prolific than first-rounder Tavon Austin.
"We're going to lobby with the league to see if we can play with more than one ball," coach Jeff Fisher said Friday night. "We're going to need more than one ball."
The 6-2, 219-pound McDonald led the Trojans with 112 tackles as a senior and could fill one of the Rams' two starting vacancies at safety after getting taken with the 71st overall pick.
"You're always going to come in and know you've got to compete," McDonald said. "I'm going to compete regardless, but my plans are to go in and take it."
Stedman Bailey, taken late in the third, had 25 touchdown catches his senior season. The Rams traded up eight spots in the first round to get Austin with the eighth overall pick and plan to use him all over the field.
The Rams had an introductory news conference for Austin and fellow first-rounder Alec Ogletree earlier in the day. Bailey had not spoken with Austin when he spoke with reporters.
"I kind of look at Tavon as a brother," Bailey said. "When I saw him go up on stage and get drafted, I kind of shed a few tears because I was just very happy for him. Once again, we get a chance to play together."
The 5-9, 197-pound Bailey, taken with the 92nd pick is bigger than Austin, who's 5-9 and 174 pounds, and almost as fast with 4.4-second 40-yard dash speed. Bailey caught 114 passes for 25 touchdowns and a 14.2-yard average, with 13 catches for 303 yards and five touchdowns against Baylor and four touchdown grabs against Oklahoma.
The Rams have a full complement of skill position players for quarterback Sam Bradford, signing tight end Jared Cook in free agency, with Chris Givens coming off a nice rookie year and Brian Quick taken in the second round last year.
They had a long wait Friday with no pick in the second round after their deal with Buffalo to move up for Austin. "Nothing tempted us," general manager Les Snead said.
McDonald's father, Tim McDonald, was a six-time Pro Bowler who also starred at Southern California and they're the only father-son combination to have captained the team. Tim McDonald was a rookie with the Cardinals in 1987, their final season in St. Louis before moving to Arizona.
McDonald landed on a team that has a strong Southern California connection in coach Jeff Fisher, a former defensive back for the Trojans who coached the elder McDonald when he was an assistant with the San Francisco. The Rams brought McDonald in for a visit that left the player, who has experience at both safety spots, feeling it might be a fit.
"My dad has a lot of respect for coach Fisher and he's definitely proud I get to play for him," McDonald said. "I kind of got a sense for myself about what kind of coach he was. Just from meeting him, it doesn't take very long and you can tell he's a great coach."
The last few seasons, Fisher has been monitoring McDonald's progress.
"T.J. is a big safety that moves well, that covers, that will run and hit," Fisher said. "That was a hold-your-breath pick because we were a little bit nervous."
McDonald's senior season was considered a bit of a drop-off from his junior year.
"I wouldn't say a bad year, I would say it was a different year," McDonald said. "I wasn't coming down from 15 yards deep flashing across the screen making those plays. I still went out there and made plays, that's the name of the game."
One of the starting safeties last season, Craig Dahl, signed a three-year free agent deal with San Francisco. The Rams had been considering re-signing the other safety Quintin Mikell, who was released to save salary cap space.
The only safety with starting experience on the roster is Darian Stewart, who played mostly on special teams last season.
Austin and Bailey had private workout not long before the draft with the Rams and both made visits to St. Louis at separate times. Fisher thought the Rams just beat several teams on the pick.
"We had them on the board based on their grades, not based on what school they attended," Fisher said. "It was a great opportunity for us. Both of them had outstanding workouts."
Together, Austin and Bailey totaled 488 receptions for 6,631 yards and 70 touchdowns. Bailey played primarily outside with Austin in motion, in the slot or in the backfield.
The Rams have four picks on the final day of the draft Saturday, one each in the fourth and fifth rounds with two in the sixth.