In 2015, shortly after Dave Andrews became coach of the University of Pittsburgh forces, St. Louis Rams' defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a former Pitt, asked him if he would work with him. during the off season NFL. "Obviously, we have the best player in the world and he's coming back to the room," said Andrews. "Why should not I serve it?"
Andrews played on the Ohio State National Team in 2002 and trained about 80 NFL players, as well as a handful of NBA players. He is not easily knocked out by extreme sportsmen. He lived the adult life surrounded by them.
As part of their routine, Andrews would offer Donald a manual resistance, unlike Donald who used a machine or weights. Andrews had seen other athletes leaning on the bench or crouching as much as Donald. He has never seen anything like Donald's muscles that react to a force on them. Andrews was stunned during these exercises.
"He's 285 pounds of dynamite," Andrews said. "He's absolutely not human. The electrical switch is different with this guy. "
On Monday night in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Rams will face the Kansas City Chiefs in a showdown that illustrates both the current offensive madman and allusions to the sporting future of the sport. The right arm of Patrick Mahomes is half magical, half howitzer. Tyreek Hill is so fast that it makes you wonder if the TV is broken. Todd Gurley can punish the tacklers, pass them or jump them. Coaches Andy Reid and Sean McVay have expanded and redefined the professional football game books.
In the midst of this sparkling fire power, the most important force on the ground will occupy a paradoxical space: it will play the defense. In the NFL, no one is better than Donald. He is a dominant defender in an offensive-driven league, a six-foot player on the territory of the giants, a potential candidate who has become a player in its own right. In the NFL, Donald is the ultimate player.
Donald is the defensive player of the year in the NFL. Only an injury or the six best games in Khalil Mack's career will keep him from repeating himself. He leads the NFL with 12.5 sacks. He put pressure on the quarterbacks 67 times, 12 more than any other player. According to Pro Football Focus, Donald is the top scorer in the NFL and the third best blocker in the race, regardless of his position.
The numbers, really, can not do justice to Donald. In a league of sporting wonders trained and calibrated for maximum performance, Donald stands out. His shoulders resemble a relief map of Colorado. Block it, it's like trying to stop a bowling ball equipped with chain saws. At the NFL Combine, he ran the 40-yard scorecard in 4.68 seconds – slow but not unheard of for a wide receiver, improbable for a tackle. He's fast enough to sneak into double teams, powerful enough to make the idea that a line player is blocking him and strong enough to throw the floor quarters as most people throw a candy wrap. in the garbage.
"Have you ever seen Rocky IV?" Asked Mike Waufle, the coach of the Rams' defense line, for the first three seasons of Donald. "When the Russians were training, they had this computerized device on which he had hit. The force that was there, the force multiplied by the speed of his punch, he recorded really, very high. This is the body of Aaron Donald, agree? He has the power beyond your wildest dreams. "
The off season has clearly shown the value of a player like Donald. As the offensive evolves, the passes are launched faster and the time spent by vulnerable quarters in the pocket decreases. Even the best strikers outside the assists often can not reach the quarterbacks in time to dismiss or even disturb them. The antidote to the future of fouls is like Donald, an indoor lineman who can get into the backfields in less than two seconds, taking the most direct line to the quarterback.
Good luck finding a duplicate. Donald resisted during the training camp for a new contract and the Rams finally succumbed. They did it – briefly, because Mack signed for more with Chicago the next day – the highest paid defensive player in football with a $ 135 million contract over six years. He had promised his parents that his career in football would allow them to retire. "Call them and tell them that they no longer have to work," Donald said at a press conference after signing, "It feels good."
Donald makes sense as a prototype, but that has not always been the case. The reason he plays for the Rams in the first place is because his stature has fooled nearly half of the NFL – including the Rams.
In his last academic season, Donald totaled 28.5 tackles for loss, won the Bronko Nagurski Award for best defensive player in the country and left his loved ones impressed. "I was so grateful that our paths crossed," said Paul Chryst, Donald's head coach at Pitt for two seasons. "He's one of those guys, really, every day you've gone back to appreciating and enjoying your time with him."
Despite everything, Donald was not considered a potential candidate. He is ranked at a height equal to 6 feet and he played his senior season at Pitt at around 280 pounds – a sting for an NFL indoor defensive lineman. Teams that played 3-4 base defense and were looking for a congested noseplate in space thought they had no use for Donald.
At first, Waufle would have owned the same idea. A former Marine who began coaching in 1979, Waufle coached NFL defensive linemen since 1998. He has developed an unwavering belief in the importance of size. When he began assessing the outlook before the 2014 project, Waufle studied Donald and found an exception.
"During my years in the NFL and even in college football before that, he was the best player I've ever seen in a college football movie at this position," said Waufle. "If we are lucky to have this guy, I feel better than him. [Jadeveon] Clowney. That's what I did to represent. The scouts and these guys felt it was too small and did not give it the highest rating. "
Teams shared this view, Donald knew. He attends the Senior Bowl to prove himself and the NFL leaders have realized the folly of neglecting him.
"He definitely made his come force this week, as a second round consideration," said Phil Savage, then director of the Senior Bowl. "By the time he left Mobile, he was clearly in the first half of the first lap, if not in the top 10. Looking back, it was a bit obvious, he should have been in the top 10. He stood out individually with his athleticism, his speed, his brilliance, his explosion. He dominated the face to face. He was essentially irreproachable. It was the buzz from start to finish. "
At Rams' headquarters, Waufle continued his campaign for Donald. The Rams held the second and 13th picks in the first round. Even though the Rams already had a heavy defensive line, Waufle was serious about using the No. 2 pick against Donald. During one meeting, Waufle climbed to a table to place Donald's name on the leaderboard over Clowney, the No. 1 consensus player who clearly emerged out of South Carolina.
When Donald made a preliminary visit to St. Louis, Waufle gave him a tour of the site. Waufle knew the team was trusting the brain: coach Jeff Fisher, general manager Les Snead and team president Kevin Demoff were meeting in the newsroom. They are watching a video of Johnny Manziel, one of the best prospects of the quarter that year. "I had great [guts] in doing so, remembers Waufle. He kicked open the door and proclaimed, "I want you all to meet Aaron Donald!" Waufle, who measures 6 feet 4 inches, put his arm around Donald and got down so that they were at the same height. The men in the room burst out laughing.
On the day of the repechage, Waufle knew the Rams were not going to use the second choice against Donald. They chose offensive lineman Greg Robinson, who eventually fell. He had no responsibility and therefore worked on projects in his office with the draft on television. He paid half attention to the draft until the ninth choice, when he peeked at a list of choices and realized, to his shock, that no one was naughty. he had chosen Donald.
Waufle started to get nervous. The Detroit Lions were tenths and he knew their defensive lineman, his friend Jim Washburn, had led a tough policy for Donald in their building. When the Lions tightened Eric Ebron, Waufle expired.
The New York Giants placed 12th, a choice before St. Louis. Waufle was certain to lose Donald. He had worked for the Giants in 2007, when they beat the unbeaten Super Bowl Patriots on the strength of a line he coached, starring Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck.
"I was scared to die," said Waufle. "They liked defensive linemen."
When the giants chose the wide open Odell Beckham Jr., Waufle was beaming. He slipped into the draft room of the rams. Fisher saw him and said, "You have your guy."
"I was all fucking in the air," Waufle said. "I could not believe we had it."
The exaltation of the Rams has not dissipated since. Prior to Donald's first training camp on the line of defense, Waufle swung his chair, addressing Donald and telling him something he had never told a player in his 25 years of career. "I'm going to say a lot about the technique," said Waufle. "I'm going to say a lot about how we play. I do not want you to listen to a word I say. You have just played. "
Donald has been named defensive rookie of the year. He has done the Pro Bowl every year of his career and in the last three years he has been the first All Pro team.
Donald's relatives believe he will stay on this path. While his agent and Rams executives were negotiating this summer, Donald was training in Pittsburgh and preparing to work with Andrews on the future of his football career. Millions of dollars were at stake.
"You would not be able to say anything in his mind," said Andrews. "You would not know if you make two dollars, three dollars, one million dollars, 100 million dollars. There is absolutely no trace. I really do not think you will see a different guy, no matter how much money he wins, who he is around, wins or loses. "
Waufle remembered that Donald had arrived every day at six in the morning. A year ago, a Rams coach saw him leaving the scene late at night, at Christmas. "He works harder than all the players I've trained," Waufle said.
Donald still trains with DeWayne Brown, the same speed and agility coach he worked with when he played for Penn Hills High. Donald refused an interview request for this story through a spokesman for the team because "he just does not want to talk about himself". Whenever he uses the Pittsburgh weight room, he first asks Andrews for permission.
"It's hard to explain," said Andrews. "It's the one you like. It's the thank you. It's the receptivity when you're going to train it. Once again, I had no relationship with him before. I was not his university coach. From this point of view, he is the salt of the earth. "
Donald can be a normal person, humble and polite, like everyone else. On a football field, there is nobody like him.
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