Share This Page
NFL

Ex-Pitt tackle Donald determined to succeed in NFL

| Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald practices Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013.

INDIANAPOLIS — Wherever Aaron Donald goes during the NFL Combine, he keeps hearing the same name over and over.

Geno Atkins.

Donald, Pitt's defensive tackle nonpareil, wouldn't mind if it that comparison stays with him as long as his NFL career lasts.

Like Atkins, Donald is a bit undersized going into the NFL Draft — he measured out Saturday at 6-0 12 and 280 pounds — and there are questions if his lack of exceptionally long arms, massive size and basketball player's height will limit him as he goes up against offensive linemen five inches taller and 40 to 50 pounds heavier. Atkins was 6-1 and 293 pounds coming out of Georgia in 2010 and subsequently lasted until the fourth round, but he's one of the NFL's best defensive linemen for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Last season, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said if that draft was done over again now, Atkins might be the No. 1 overall pick.

“I love the way he plays. I watched him a lot, watched him a lot my junior year in college. He's explosive, fun to watch,” Donald said Saturday. “He just makes a ton of plays.

What he's doing in the NFL is amazing, (and) it's an honor to even be compared to a guy like that.”

It's a comparison Donald might not have heard following his junior year. But during a time when many top underclassmen don't make it to their senior seasons before turning pro, Donald had a breakthrough final season at Pitt. He won the Lombardi award for top lineman/linebacker in college football, the Nagurski for best defensive player and the Outland Trophy for best interior lineman, among others. It was an awards sweep unlike any Pitt player in history, including Hugh Green.

Donald, the former Penn Hills High star, shows the drive to excel and overachieve that NFL coaches love, even if his measurables might scare NFL personnel directors.

“(I) love him on tape — he's explosive and he's quick,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said of Donald, who is down about eight pounds from the Senior Bowl.

“It never got to me,” Donald said of all the talk about his size. “Thinking about it isn't going to get me taller. All I can (do) is go play the game of football, the way I play it: hard-nosed, out there trying to make plays.”

The combine is important for Donald — he will work out Monday — as he attempts to prove he can channel his competitiveness into the NFL and overcome some of those perceived physical limitations.

Like Atkins, he is seen as an exceptional three-technique tackle, who lines up on the outside shoulder of a guard rather than a five-technique tackle, who lines up on the outside shoulder of a tackle.

“I'm (going to) continue to try to open their eyes that I'm an athlete, I'm athletic, just show that I can move,” Donald said. “I feel like a lot of things I showed that I can do already.”

He also plans to “shock” the league with his workout performance.

“I feel like I can make an impact right away, feel like I can come in and have trust in the coaches and playbook and make plays right away,” said Donald, who talked with the Cowboys, among other teams, to date.

He's already shown them at the Senior Bowl, where he won 12 of 15 head-on-head battles with offensive linemen, earning him the award for the best player in practice. Utah offensive lineman Tyler Larsen called him, by far, the best lineman he opposed.

“All I can do is do my part and keep trying to open up eyes with what I did on the football field, what I did in my career on film,” Donald said. “Just go out there and try to compete and shock a couple of more people.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.