Friday, December 05, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Buccaneers’ nose should be an All-Pro

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville’s own Clinton McDonald has already beaten the odds many times over just by being where he is today, the starting nose tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He is a fifth-year pro, not counting one year on the Cincinnati practice squad after being drafted in the seventh and last round of the NFL draft out of Memphis University.

And while the 2014 Bucs isn’t the same team as last year’s Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, which McDonald started for the past three seasons, McDonald himself is having his best statistical season as a professional, and has been the perfect fit for a young team like Tampa Bay.

His performance on the field and his impact on the team is why he should be recognized this season as an All-Pro.

His statistics aren’t eye-popping at first glance, but a nose tackle’s statistics almost never are. They are, however, very impressive for a man who plays a position some teams don’t even have anymore. And when you take into consideration most people that do play that position are the biggest guys on the defense, while McDonald is one of the smallest defensive linemen in all of the NFL, it’s even more impressive.

In 11 games of the 16-game season, McDonald already has a career high in tackles with 36. That’s 27th best among defensive linemen in the entire NFL. Again, considering his position, that’s impressive. Most defenses are designed for the big guys in the middle to clog up holes and channel ball carriers to the outer linemen and linebackers to make the tackles. McDonald’s smaller stature, freakish strength and nimbleness allows him to get free and make many of those tackles himself.

Tampa Bay signed McDonald last summer to a three-year deal worth $12 million, and have gotten even more than it bargained for. Coach Lovie Smith has said more than once this season that McDonald has been even better than they thought he was when they signed him – saying he’s been “a force” and a “better pass rusher than we expected.”

It’s shown on the field, too. Brought in to be a run stopper, he hasn’t left the field in passing situations either. McDonald has played more snaps than any other defender on the team this season.

He has recorded three sacks, all three in the last three games, has one fumble recovery and one interception.

But what’s always been known about McDonald by people that know him well and especially by teammates, is his value off the field as well. Tampa Bay has come to know it in just part of one season.

Go all the way back in Cincinnati and you’ll find Bengals’ coach Marvin Lewis talking about what a great locker room guy McDonald was there. It was the same at Seattle, and now Tampa Bay players and coaches are raving about the former Red Devil’s leadership.

“He’s one of the elder statesmen,” Smith said recently at a press conference. “Guys listen to Clinton because he’s not a BSer. He’s just to the point, works hard. His overall play and in our locker room, on our football team has been outstanding.”

Second year defensive end Jacquies Smith, who came to Tampa Bay after McDonald, told the Tampa Bay Tribune how important McDonald is to the team.

“He’s meant a lot to me since I stepped through the door,” Jacquies Smith said. “Clint greeted me with open arms. 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.”

And it’s not just his defensive teammates that notice McDonald’s leadership. Offensive tackle Demar Dotson also spoke to the Tribune about the nose guard.

“I like Clint, he’s a believer,” said Dotson. “He’s always in chapel on Saturday night and he’s always positive. He’s one of the hard-hat guys that every team needs.

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

What voters should remember is that the NFL, unlike many other sports leagues, don’t call their postseason honorees All-Stars, it calls them All-Pros – and “pro” is only short for professional. When you combine the fact that McDonald is having the best statistical season of his career, which is also among the best for defensive linemen in the league, with the fact that throughout his entire career he has been a consummate professional; if you judge value to the team and see what McDonald has meant to the young Bucs, you can’t leave him off the All-Pro ballot this year.