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Pitt's Donald impresses as Senior Bowl nears

| Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, 11:03 p.m.
Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald (97) practices prior to Saturday's Senior Bowl on Friday, Jan. 22, 2014, at Ladd Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala.

No longer an amateur, Aaron Donald has moved smoothly into the world of professional football. He has an agent, a workout site in Arizona and a helmet for the Senior Bowl on Saturday in Mobile, Ala.

Yet he said he hasn't changed.

“You know me,” Donald said by phone. “I don't like to brag unless it's about playing pingpong.”

The former Pitt defensive tackle doesn't know how to lie, either. When asked to describe how he has performed against college football's best offensive linemen in Senior Bowl practices, he said, “I feel I have the capabilities. I'm just doing what I have been doing all (season).”

That's another way of saying he belongs. ESPN's scouting team of Todd McShay, Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl went further. They wrote that Donald will be the best interior rusher in the game.

Their assessment: “Donald showed the ability to beat offensive linemen with quickness, power and active hands, and his ability to do it so many different ways make it that much harder to keep him off the quarterback.”

Donald, named by scouts as the most outstanding practice player of the week, also performed well against Baylor's Cyril Richardson, ranked the third-best guard by NFLDraftScout.com.

“He's extremely hard to block,” Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan told ESPN.com. “He's very quick. He's an intelligent kid, uses his hands well. He's a playmaker.”

The Falcons staff is coaching the North squad this week, and Donald appears to fit nicely into Atlanta's 4-3 defensive alignment, which is similar to what he played at Pitt.

NFLDraftScout.com projects Donald as a first- or second-round choice and ranks him the third-best defensive tackle prospect, behind Notre Dame's Louis Nix III and Minnesota's RaShede Hageman. ESPN's Mel Kiper ranks Donald fifth.

The Senior Bowl is the second leg of Donald's journey toward the NFL, where he will become the first Pitt player drafted since five were selected in 2011. He began training in Arizona about a week after Pitt's final game.

After the Senior Bowl, he will return to Arizona to continue workouts before traveling to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis next month. He said he plans to be back in Pittsburgh for Pitt's pro day March 3.

When he arrived in Mobile, he was measured at 6-foot- 78, 288 pounds, not far off his height and weight during the season (6-0, 285).

He said he remains largely unchanged in other ways, too.

“I'm still the same football player, still the same person,” he said. “I'm just growing a lot more and trying to better myself.”

He said he has met with coaches and scouts from several NFL teams, a process he enjoys.

“I'm letting these guys,” he said, “meet me outside the football pads so they know the type of person I am: A laid-back guy who likes to be with family.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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