TAMPA — Like many guests, Bucs defensive tackle Clinton McDonald admits he pocketed a napkin, complete with the presidential seal, when he visited the White House last month with the rest of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
It wasn't all he walked away with, however. As Tampa Bay sets its sights on returning to postseason glory, McDonald was proud to share with his new teammates how it felt to meet President Barack Obama and enjoy the perks of being a champion.
"It was a special moment. You could really see that hard work pays off," said McDonald, 27, a key offseason free agent signing for new coach Lovie Smith and his staff. "For a lot of guys, it's just a dream. For the reality of me actually being able to go, to be a part of that, to come back and share that experience, it gives hope to the guys that if we work hard, if we dedicate ourselves to our craft and take this serious, we could be there too."
New Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier made a point to have McDonald share his White House experience with the team. Frazier won a Super Bowl as a player with the Bears in 1985 and again as an assistant under Tony Dungy with the Colts in the 2006 season.
"You could hear a pin drop as he was expressing what it meant to him and the guys in Seattle," Frazier said. "To bring that to our team, hopefully that rubs off on our guys as well."
McDonald (6 feet 2, 297 pounds) will step in as a starter next to Pro Bowl player Gerald McCoy, and he has impressed coaches so far by showing leadership, not only within the defensive line but in setting an example for all his teammates.
"When we talk about leadership, most people talk about that guy that's firing guys up and screaming and yelling," Smith said Wednesday. "Clinton is one of those guys (that) you don't hear him an awful lot. It's just the way he works. As you look at Clinton McDonald, you would assume he's a tough guy, just from talking and looking at him, but he backs it up with how he goes through every drill."
Frazier said he was watching practice tape with defensive line coach Joe Cullen and said aloud how thankful he was that McDonald had chosen to sign with the Bucs — a four-year, $12 million deal — when he had other options around the league as a coveted free agent.
"He's even more impressive, being around him," Frazier said. "Not just the player on the field, but his personality, how he approaches practice. He's all business. He's a very good leader. I think pairing he and Gerald together will make our defense pretty stout up front. He's going to give us an inside pass rush, but he can play the run as well."
McDonald has the credibility of playing the past three years with the Seahawks, going 31-17 in that span, but he also can relate to his teammates who are just battling for a spot on the 53-man roster. McDonald was cut by the Bengals as a draft pick in 2009, spending his first year on Cincinnati's practice squad, and he was among Seattle's final cuts last year. He re-signed with the team two weeks later and finished with 35 tackles and 5½ sacks.
He has started only two regular-season games in his four-year career, but he started in the Super Bowl in February, stepping up with five tackles and a Peyton Manning fumble recovery in Seattle's victory over Denver.
So McDonald joins a defensive line that also added Cincinnati's Michael Johnson in free agency (the two were teammates with the Bengals in 2009-10), and Smith has talked about the importance of setting the tone for a defense from the line of scrimmage.
"We bring a different attitude, a chemistry the team has but needs a lot more of," McDonald said. "They already had great defensive linemen here, so for us to add to that line is a blessing. We're bringing a part of who we are. We're a growing defense, a young defense. It's no one-man defense out here. The biggest thing for us is trying to form as a group, that way we can be a great D."
McDonald said the trip to the White House also reminded him how quickly he has bonded with his new teammates in Tampa. The trip served as a reunion with the Seahawks players he had spent three years with, but he found himself thinking about his future with the Bucs.
Most of the current Tampa Bay players don't have the postseason thrill that McDonald will always cherish, and his head coach said there's a natural respect for those who have been able to achieve the NFL's highest goal.
"It gives you a little bit of credibility, too, when you can flash that ring out," Smith said. "And when he and Leslie talk about the ring, they're in that little elite group that a lot of us aren't in, so we are listening to them."
DANIEL WALLACE | Times
Cooling off: Bucs quarterback Josh McCown bites into some tropical-flavored Kona Ice courtesy of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who brought in a shaved-ice truck to reward his teammates after the final day of minicamp.