Denver's Andre Caldwell
Updated: 2 p.m.
NEW YORK — Clinton McDonald has his weight down to 290 pounds and his career taking off with 5.5 sacks as he gets ready to slice into Seattle's defensive line rotation in Sunday's Super Bowl. But he's the kind of guy that savors every move from the ground up.
"They taught me the league. They taught me how a blue-collar team does it. The Bengals are still family in my eyes, still family in my heart," McDonald said Wednesday morning. "The program the Bengals put together was a class act. The owners were involved, you got to see them every day, they put the NFL in a different light."
McDonald, the tackle out of Memphis, is another in a long line of sterling exhibits from the past five Bengals drafts. One of three seventh-round draft picks in 2009, McDonald had a hard time getting steady action on the stacked defensive line and ended up getting traded to Seattle for third cornerback Kelly Jennings on the eve of the 2011 season. It was the classic good-deal-for-both-clubs. Jennings retired after the season, but it turned out the Bengals needed him to be more than the third corner after Leon Hall tore his Achilles midway through the year and Jennings helped get them into the playoffs.
Meanwhile, McDonald, the ultimate underdog everyone loves, is still at it. Cut by Seattle this preseason, he rejoined the club for the second game of the season on Friday, played about 10-15 snaps Sunday, and has become such a huge part of the front rotation of the NFL's No. 1 defense with about 20 to 25 snaps per game that defensive coordinator Dan Quinn thinks he can become an every-down player.
McDonald ticks off the names of that '09 line. Domata Peko, Geno Atkins, Robert Geathers, Michael Johnson, Frostee Rucker. He still thinks of them as mentors.
"Domata more than anything. And Geno and Michael and Frostee and Tank and Robert Geathers; all of them," McDonald said. "Playing behind Peko and Geno, it allowed me to sharpen the tools in my box. Those guys work hard. They're about their business. The first time I came in as a young guy, the NFL is all glitz and glamour. But the reality is it's a bunch of hard-working guys."
BUBBA LIVES: The last time we saw old friend Andre Caldwell, he had become one of the answers in the Bengals Trivia Book:
Name the only man to catch a TD pass longer than Chad Johnson and A.J. Green when he was teammates with both.
Caldwell surfaced this week in the Super Bowl as what Denver teammate Wes Welker calls "the best fourth receiver in the NFL," two years removed from his four-season run in Cincinnati. Advocates of the interchangeable Bengals slot duo of Mohamed Sanu and Andrew Hawkins would politely disagree, but Caldwell has his backers.
Particularly the guy wearing No. 18.
"I like Bubba," said Peyton Manning, a mischievous grin sweeping across his features during Wednesday's media appointment. "The only flaw with Bubba is that he's a Florida Gator."
If there's anyone who can catch us up on Caldwell in the intervening two seasons, it is his quarterback, Manning, the guy Caldwell says quizzes him in meetings like a coach.
"He's stepped up this year. He didn't get as many opportunities this year. I know it's tough. Bubba could probably be a starter for a number of teams," Manning said. "(Eric) Decker and (Demaryius) Thomas have stayed healthy. They've played every game. Welker has had some injuries. When Welker got injured, Bubba stepped up in a big way. He's fast, real fast, and he loves football."
Coming from the man who loves football like no other, that's saying something. It also says something about the Bengals depth at receiver. Caldwell, who played all 16 games for the first time since 2009, caught 16 balls for 200 yards and three touchdowns this season with a long of 36 yards. Hawkins, who missed the first eight games, had 199 yards on 12 catches while Sanu added three TDs on 47 catches.
"He's definitely a talented guy," Welker said. "It's one of these deals when he gets in there he does his job and comes up big for us. And we're looking for that on Sunday."
Welker should know. When he got hurt, Caldwell caught two TDs in his place in the glare of a Thursday night game, the 27-20 loss to San Diego.
Caldwell has kept up with his old mates and he thought they'd meet in the AFC title game.
"The way they were playing defense and scoring and playing so well at home, I thought they were going to make it to play us," Caldwell said. "I never thought they'd lose that first game."