Passionate McDonald a quiet leader for Buccaneers

Clinton McDonald doesn’t have to brandish his Super Bowl ring to attract the attention of his Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates.

All he has to do is speak.

The veteran defensive tackle has proven to be a smart free-agent acquisition during Tampa Bay’s 2-9 start, heading into Sunday’s home matchup against Cincinnati.

McDonald has a sack in each of the past three games and added a fumble recovery last week at Chicago. In addition to his solid play next to All-Pro Gerald McCoy, he is serving as a powerful role model for young teammates like defensive end Jacquies Smith.

“He’s meant a lot to me since I stepped through the door,” Smith said. “Clint greeted me with open arms, and he’s one of the quiet leaders around here. Most of all, he talks through his play. He’s a great professional, a guy I can look up to in the room and see what it means to be a pro, on and off the field.’’

McDonald signed with the Bucs in March after earning a Super Bowl ring with the Seahawks, who acquired him in a 2011 trade with the Bengals. His faith and perspective have helped him cope with Tampa Bay’s disastrous season.

“God blessed me to be in this position,” he said. “To come from a team that won it all last year and be with a young club that has plenty of talent. The difference here is we’re not finding ways to get it done. My first year in Seattle, we were 7-9, still learning how to win, still trying to grasp the concepts.

“We were losing games in the fourth quarter, but that proved to be a stepping stone to success, and the same thing will happen here. You can’t allow yourself to be discouraged. Of course the losses hurt, but you have to stick together and believe.”

McDonald and Bucs defensive end Michael Johnson were both selected by Cincinnati in the 2009 draft and quickly became friends. After three years apart, they are starters on the same front in Tampa.

“Clint’s a high-motor guy with high intelligence,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “He’s kind of a rock, and he and Mike were the best of buddies. When we ended up trading Clint to Seattle, Mike lost his best buddy. It’s interesting to see them reunited again.”

Bucs coach Lovie Smith said McDonald has turned out to be a better pass rusher than anticipated when Tampa Bay signed him to a four-year deal for $12 million. McDonald has started every game and leads Tampa Bay’s defensive linemen with 36 tackles.

“I like Clint, he’s a believer,” Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson said. “He’s always in chapel on Saturday night, and he’s always positive. He’s one of those hard-hat guys that every team needs. He’s going to give you everything he’s got on Sunday, and you see his passion. He’s ranting and raving, ready to go to war.”

Off the field, McDonald tends to be laid-back and soft-spoken ... but not always.

“Clint talks more than you know,” Johnson said. “I’ve known him for five years, and he’s a blue-collar, come-to-work football player. He was going to have clout around here, even if he never won a ring, just by the way he works. He knows what it takes to win in this league.”

According to McDonald, the Bucs will get there soon.

“It’s growing pains,” he said. “It’s no different than being a kid on the playground and you get scuffed up a little bit. That’s how you learn what your limitations are — what you can do and what you can’t do. We’re bonding together well as a defense, getting to know each other. When you make it personal, then you’ve got a reason to play for each other.”

McDonald, 27, has no regrets about signing with the Bucs.

“Nobody, how bad you think it is, it’s not that bad,” he said. “It’s Thanksgiving time and a lot of people don’t have food to eat, they don’t have family to go to. A lot of people don’t have things to be thankful for. We’re sitting here moping, ‘Oh man, we’re not winning.’ But at the same time, you have to be thankful for the small things. We’re blessed to be able to play this game.”

For Dotson, being in McDonald’s company is a blessing in itself.

“Some people like to talk,” Dotson said, “but they don’t know how to back it up. Some people, when they talk, you get tired of listening and you just want them to shut up. Clint’s one of those guys who, when he opens his mouth, you want to listen. You might learn something and you know he’ll back it up.”

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Neil S. Schwartz

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Jonathan Feinsod

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