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Big Mac in the middle

Posted Aug 10, 2012

When the Seahawks unveil their new-look nickel line on Saturday night, there will be the expected – Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin and Jason Jones – but also the unexpected presence of Clinton McDonald.

When the Seahawks unveil their new-look nickel-defense line in Saturday night’s preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans, most eyes at CenturyLink Field will be on first-round draft choice Bruce Irvin, a blur of a pass rusher.

Or Chris Clemons, who got a new contract last month after producing 11-sack seasons in his first two years in Seattle. Or Jason Jones, who was signed in free agency to help a pass rush that generated 33 sacks in 2011.

Then there’s Clinton McDonald, a low-center-of-gravity, powerful-at-the-point-of-attack tackle who brings the bash to go with the dash of Clemons, Irvin and Jones.

To understand how McDonald got there, it helps to revisit how he got here.

It happened last Aug. 29, when the club traded former first-round draft choice and starting cornerback Kelly Jennings to the Cincinnati Bengals because they wanted – and needed – the traits attached to the 6-foot-2, 297-pound McDonald.

“We were looking for a power player, a leverage player,” general manager John Schneider said. “Cincinnati was looking for a corner. So we made the trade to get a tough, no-nonsense, (butt)-kicker.

“We didn’t know how high his ceiling was, but especially at that position if you’re going hard and you’re tough and strong and play with leverage and have instincts, you’ve got a great shot. We had such a strong need, and he’s done a really nice job.”

McDonald filled a valuable situational role last season, when he was part of the tackle rotation to spell nose tackle Brandon Mebane, who led all NFC interior linemen in tackles. Mebane had 56 tackles, McDonald 35. That’s a lot of production, no matter how you generate it – and who is generating it.

“When I first got here, being traded from the team that drafted you, it’s always a kind of an affect-you feeling because you feel a loyalty to the team that drafted you,” said McDonald, a seventh-round pick by the Bengals in 2009 who spent his first season on the practice squad and his second playing behind Frosty Rucker, who is now with the Cleveland Browns.

“But since I’ve been traded, it’s been nothing but love here – from the players, from John Schneider, from Pete Carroll, from (line coach) Todd Wash. Everybody is working well with me, trying to get me to understand the package that we’ve got going on here.”

Wash has put even more on McDonald’s plate this training camp by giving him the first shot to win the fourth spot in the nickel line.

“Mac is really doing what we’re asking him to do,” said Wash, who also plans to look at Mebane, tackle-sized end Red Bryant and starting three-technique tackle Alan Branch in the pass-rush unit.

“We’re looking for someone to help push the pocket.”

And if anyone looks the part, it’s McDonald.

“He’s just so strong,” Wash said. “He’s got a little bit more center of gravity; he’s a little bit closer to the ground. He does a good job of getting under (blockers’) pads and getting push in the pocket. He does a tremendous job with that.”

McDonald’s reaction to plugging the middle of the nickel line? “That’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “Todd Wash has a lot of confidence in me pushing the pocket and getting pressure on the quarterback.”

In studying video of the Seahawks’ pass rush last season, Wash and his lineman noticed that too often the quarterback would step up in the pocket to complete the pass or scramble to the outside. The solution: Clog that soft spot, and do it with the size and power the McDonald can deliver.

“Just to be that presence in the middle of the pocket, so the quarterback can’t step up and Chris Clemons or Bruce can come off the end and get a sack, that’s what I’m looking to do,” McDonald said.

McDonald is the type of do-whatever-he’s-asked/whatever-it-takes player who can make a coach’s life a little easier, as well as the jobs of those playing around him. Maybe that’s why he seems to be the most popular player in a unit that prides itself on its camaraderie. Mention his name to anyone – Bryant, Mebane, Clemons, etc. – and the first reaction is a smile. What usually follows that is, “Mac, he’s a great guy.”

Mention that to McDonald and also breaks into a large grin and then laughs.

“We’ve all got a common respect for each other, and I think that’s what makes a team and builds a great team,” he said. “We’re all going to work for one common goal, and that’s a championship.”