Donald already impressing at Rams camp

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams 2014 training camp hasn't even officially begun, but rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald already is drawing rave reviews.

Taking part in two practices with his rookie teammates earlier this week, Donald was an instant scene-stealer, especially when taking part in some one-on-one pass rush drills.

During a handful of snaps in Wednesday's workout, Donald was so quick off the ball that there were moments it looked like some of the rookie linemen were going at walk-through speed while he was going at full speed. Only No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson seemed to have any success consistently getting his hands on Donald, though even that didn't slow him down much.

"We are definitely learning a lot," Donald said. "When they say everybody in the NFL is good, so far I have been seeing that. Guys can move a lot better and once they get their hands on you, they’ve got you, so I’m just making sure I work on my technique so they can’t grab me and get their hands on me."

It's probably safe to assume that when the veterans report for the actual first day of training camp on Friday, Donald will see more linemen who do get their hands on him and more consistently serve as more than a glorified speed bump on his way to the quarterback. The true test will come not only against the veteran linemen such as Rodger Saffold and Davin Joseph, but also when the pads come on next week.

Donald played so well during organized team activities that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer named him one of the most impressive players on the field without solicitation. In the time since Donald departed from the offseason program, he doesn't appear to have lost many steps.

Donald took three days off to go jet skiing at his brother Archie's house in Toledo, Ohio. After that, he returned to Pittsburgh for what he calls "barbaric" workouts with a personal trainer. Those workouts included daily sessions consisting of everything from working with bands tied around his ankles, knees, feet and waist, to distance running for endurance, to working with a parachute for resistance training.

All of it was done with the intent to make Donald even quicker.

"(It was) a lot of different things, but helps me being more explosive," Donald said. "We do a lot of stuff, a lot of crazy stuff."

Beyond the conditioning and physical work, Donald also paid his usual precise detail to working with his hands. It's been a borderline obsession for Donald since his time at Penn Hills High, just outside of Pittsburgh. There, Penn Hills defensive line coach Demond Gibson offered regular reminders of the importance of hand technique for defensive linemen.

Gibson knew the value of hand usage as well as anyone after a career in which he played college ball at Pittsburgh and spent some time with the New Orleans Saints in the NFL as well as stints in the CFL and AFL.

With Gibson helping him hone his technique even after going on to college, Donald has always been advanced in his ability to use his hands to gain an advantage. Although Donald is small compared to other defensive tackles at 6-feet and 285 pounds, his heavy hands combine with the aforementioned quickness and leverage to make him a tough block.

"It’s great (to have) hand speed, but at the same time I’ve got the jitters to juke, do a little move and use your hands, it always is going to get those big guys off you," Donald said.

For a player who thoroughly dominated at the college level, Donald now faces his greatest challenge. The Rams are hopeful that the No. 13 overall pick in May's draft can contribute right away, even if he's not technically listed as a starter. In need of pass-rush help from interior of the line, Donald should get plenty of opportunities to get after quarterbacks right away, and he might even be able to avoid the constant double-teams teams threw at him at Pitt.

While Donald's offseason performance has been enough to draw the attention of coaches and teammates, the soft-spoken Donald has remained focused on the task at hand.

"It’s a good thing just to know the coaches are starting to see me on the field," Donald said.