One player who obviously stood out during the week of Senior Bowl practices was Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who was named the most outstanding overall practice player by a group of respected scouts.
The Atlanta Falcons staff coached Donald on the North team all week. New defensive line coach Bryan Cox applauded just about every maneuver Donald completed during drills. And the feeling was mutual as Donald talked about his admiration of Cox and being able to fit right in with a team such as the Falcons.
"Their 4-3 system is just something that I'm used to," Donald said. "I feel like it's similar to a lot of things we did in college."
It will be interesting to keep track of Donald's draft status over the next few months, particularly for a Falcons team in need of defensive line help. The 6-foot, 288-pound dynamo obviously is worthy of first-round consideration, but maybe not as high as the sixth-overall pick that the Falcons currently have. However, general manager Thomas Dimitroff left open the possibility of trading down, so maybe targeting Donald later in the first round is a possibility.
Whatever the case, Donald's motor is as impressive as any defensive tackle you'll see. He opened eyes with his burst, his technique, and his ability to stop the run.
Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan surely was impressed.
"He's extremely hard to block," Nolan said. "He's very quick. He's an intelligent kid; uses his hands well. He's a playmaker."
Donald already had the production and accolades after the All-American won every major award for a defensive lineman: Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award, Outland Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award. It made him the most decorated college defensive lineman since Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska) in 2009.
His numbers at Pittsburgh included 29.5 career sacks and 66 career tackles for a loss, 28.5 of them this past season.
Even more impressive about Donald is his desire to improve. He talked about what he had learned from Cox in just a short period of time.
"On double teams, at times, I tend to turn my shoulders a little bit," Donald explained. "Coach Cox is just trying to work with me on staying square a lot more and, with my run stance, a lot more flat-footed instead of standing on my tippy toes. It's just little things like that."
The Falcons have three defensive tackles headed to free agency in Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters, and Peria Jerry. Peters is recovering from an Achilles injury, while Jerry is recovering from a sprained knee.