Donald earning more playing time with Rams


Pitt’s name has stayed relevant in the football world beyond college for a number of years now. NFL fans have seen Dan Marino, Tony Dorsett, Mike Ditka and Larry Fitzgerald — just to name a few — enjoy a great deal of success at the professional level. Now, it’s the latest Pitt player’s turn to make a case.

Aaron Donald, now in the spotlight, is determined to exceed all expectations. Donald, the winner of the Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski and the Outland Awards in 2013, enjoyed much success during his four years at Pitt. While playing defensive tackle for the Panthers, Donald racked up 29.5 sacks on top of his 177 total tackles. Calling him a defensive beast is an understatement.

Running backs would be scared to run up the middle against Aaron Donald, and it looks like Jeff Fisher, head coach of the St. Louis Rams, is catching on to the trend. According to Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus, Donald played in 92 percent of the snaps during the first half of Monday night’s game against the San Francisco 49ers and 88.4 percent of the snaps throughout the entire game. That was the highest percentage of snaps played for any Rams defensive tackle since 2007.

The Rams drafted Donald with the thirteenth pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, and he has seen a greater amount of playing time since the first game of the season. This St. Louis team has been a cellar dweller in its division for a long time now, and Donald looks like he could be part of a recent movement to change that pattern. Donald may have had only four tackles in his most recent game against the San Francisco 49ers, but he was a huge part of the reason that the Rams shut down the opposing run game in the first half.

The 49ers have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, yet Donald still plugged up big holes and took on two blockers at a time. Even the announcers marveled at plays where Donald ended up taking down the running back in the backfield before he got any momentum. The coaches are recognizing his presence in the trenches and his positive impact on the Rams’ defense more and more each game. If running backs don’t fear him now, they’ll stay away from running up the middle by the end of the season.

But Donald’s impact is more than just the stats that he racks up. When a player forces opposing teams to plan their strategies around his presence, then his impact is even greater. Donald was this player in college, and the NFL world is realizing that he’s working to be this player professionally as well. Right now, he has 12 tackles along with a sack in his first five games of his rookie season. Amazingly, he had the team’s only sack through its first five games this season.

Increased chances and more experience will only allow these numbers to grow at a faster rate. Aaron Donald just might turn out to be one of the best defensive tackles St. Louis has ever seen.