Pitt’s Aaron Donald a stretch for Bears at No. 14

Pitt’s Aaron Donald a stretch for Bears at No. 14
February 23, 2014, 8:30 pm
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INDIANAPOLIS – Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald wants to play in the kind of defensive scheme that the Bears run. And he has the right NFL role model for himself.

Donald was asked about playing for the Dallas Cowboys, although his answer had a considerably wider reach. He specifically mentioned his affinity for the Dallas style of 4-3, defense, which is a one-gap style under the coaching of former Bears coordinator and line coach Rod Marinelli. The Bears have stayed with that style and Donald suggested that he has the kind of versatility craved by current defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.

“I played nose tackle, played a three-man front in the 5-[technique], 3-tech,” Donald said at this weekend’s NFL Scouting Combine. “I moved around in college a lot, so being versatile the way I am, I feel like that's a plus for me.”

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Donald is projected to be available when the Bears draft at No. 14, or even down lower in the first round if the Bears fashion a trade.

But he measured just short of 6-foot-1 and less than 290 pounds. And that is perhaps an issue.

“The problem with the shorter defensive tackles is that when they don't win with their first move, they don't win with their quickness, they can get stuck on blocks because they don't have the length to get off the block,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. “And that's the concern with Donald."

Bears fit: The height may be more of an issue than the bulk. One reason Shea McClellin, at 6-foot-3, struggled at times at defensive end was that he was simply unable to see over taller right tackles when in a normal stance. It may not be as critical at guard, where the blockers are typically shorter than tackles (although Kyle Long is 6-foot-6), but in nickel-rush situations, teams routinely shift defensive ends inside for the added height. Only nose tackles Stephen Paea and Landon Cohen were less than 6-foot-2, and they both weighed in closer to 300 pounds.

Donald’s NFL role model is Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins, who has been a Pro Bowl selection at 6-foot-1. But the average for 2013 Pro Bowl tackles was 6-foot-3.5, with only Buffalo’s Kyle Williams (6-foot-1) shorter than 6-foot-3.

Donald’s weight was at 285 pounds at the Combine, too light even for most speed-based single-gap systems. He, like Atkins, may prove an exceptional talent, but hoping for an “exception” at No. 14 is the definition of high risk.