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Nick McDonald happy to get his first NFL start under his belt

12.05.11 at 4:35 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Nick McDonald was sore when he woke up Monday morning, but that was a good thing.

‘€œIt feels great though — I haven’€™t felt like this in a while,’€ he said Monday afternoon during a break in the Patriots’€™ locker room. ‘€œIt feels good.’€

In his first NFL start, the center went wire-to-wire in New England‘€™s 31-24 win over Indianapolis. The fourth center the Patriots rolled out there this season, McDonald was signed off the practice squad on Friday to replace Ryan Wendell (calf) and Dan Connolly (groin), both of whom were too hobbled to play on Sunday. (Starter Dan Koppen was placed on injured reserve shortly after the regular-season opener against the Dolphins.)

‘€œNick did really well. He really did. He stepped up big time this week,’€ said fellow offensive lineman Brian Waters. ‘€œHe didn’€™t fully know what would happen, but he stepped up big time.

‘€œHe’€™s done a great job all season of making sure he knows what’€™s going on, and today was just to show that you never know when your time is coming and you have to be prepared. All of young guys … I feel confident in all our young guys being ready to go when their number is called.’€

The 6-foot-4, 316-pounder had been on the practice squad for the bulk of the 2011 season, but was signed to the active roster on Saturday when the Patriots released wide receiver Taylor Price. A 24-year-old undrafted free agent out of Saginaw Valley State, McDonald was signed by the Packers after the 2010 draft, and picked up a ring because he was on the Green Bay roster last season.

Sunday marked his first start with the Patriots.

‘€œIt was nice to see myself out there and see what I have to do to get better,’€ McDonald said after getting a chance to watch film with his teammates. ‘€œI need a lot of improvement, obviously, but I think I stepped up and played well. Obviously, I have two awesome players next to me in (Logan) Mankins and Waters, so that helps.

‘€œIf there’€™s a check, they’€™ll help make some calls. But as a center, you have to know everything. You have to be right on it. If it’€™s not the right call, those guys will definitely tell you,’€ McDonald added. ‘€œThat was key with me. I had to communicate. We worked on that all week to make sure I made the right calls.’€

Quarterback Tom Brady had nothing but positive things to say about the work that McDonald did in the week leading up to the game, and what he was able to accomplish on Sunday against the Colts.

‘€œIt’€™s really a credit to Nick and the work that he put in last week,’€ Brady told WEEI on Monday morning. ‘€œTaking care of the football starts with the center-quarterback exchange. You’€™ve got to execute the most basic play in football, getting the ball from the center to the quarterback. We spent a lot of time last week trying to be able to do that. To be forced into that situation, where basically Nick’€™s been on the practice squad and then to elevate him the roster and have him step in was really a great job by him.’€

Going forward, McDonald faces an uncertain future, as the injury status of both Wendell and Connolly could have a sizable impact on his playing time. For his part, he said Monday he’€™s going to control what he can control.

‘€œI just have to keep working. (Do) what I’€™ve been doing since I got here. I just have to keep working hard in the weight room and film study and know what I’€™m doing and just be prepared,’€ he said. ‘€œIt’€™s great. I’€™m glad that I’€™ve gotten the opportunity. Now, I just have to keep doing it every single week and keep improving.’€

Read More: Brian Waters, Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, Logan Mankins
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