The grass was still dark green. The hashes still looked freshly painted. It’d only been five minutes since the Saturday game started, and North Carolina’s offense was taking the field for the first time. Quarterback Marquise Williams stood in a shotgun formation, set to take a quick three-step drop and toss the ball out to the left flat, near where Aaron Donald was crouching across the left guard’s outside shoulder.
Donald, Pittsburgh’s fourth-year senior, was known for disturbing the backfield peace. That’s why when the play began, it wasn’t a surprise the Tar Heels assigned the left guard and center to him despite the nose tackle being closer to the center. But even two blockers weren’t going to silence Donald on this day.
When he stood up from his usual three-technique, he burst forward from a three-point stance and swung his right arm over to slice the combination block in half. His 285-pound frame blew by the blockers before a brief stumble, one that he leveraged into an explosive leap and pass deflection that led to an interception.
This was only the beginning. After the initial ground-shaking devastation he caused with that play, after effects kept coming through the core of the UNC infrastructure, as he ripped through every damn blocker in the way and the one player that stood tallest in the backfield on every play.
He penetrated past linemen with forehead furrowing quickness and jolting hand technique, the best ways he knew how. One of his finer plays came only two plays after the opener.
It was third-and-long, and Donald flipped from the front’s right to its left. He was still a three-technique, only this time outside the right guard’s shoulder. Truth be told, it didn’t matter — he was going to raise hell against whoever he wanted to.
As the play unfolded, he propelled his body off his right leg, shook his hips and sunk his shoulder as he crossed the face of the blocker. At the sinking of his left cleat, his left half leaned in. With his arm jammed into the opponent’s breast plate, he circled around the blocker until the latter couldn’t keep up anymore. The blocker’s hands slipped off his back, and his left arm was freed, allowing him to stick his cleat in the ground deeper and wrap around the corner to engulf the quarterback as the ball was thrown away. (:15)
By the beginning of the second half, the grass’ color waned, especially in between the hashes, where the once freshly painted hashes lost their color too. One could surmise a reason: the loss of color came from the blockers and quarterbacks constantly being on the ground after dealing with Donald, or maybe his cleats ripping the field up. Either way, it painted a dim picture that mirrored the third-and-10 the Tar Heels faced less than a minute into the half.
Donald was back on the right side, again at the three-technique. Williams was again in a shotgun set, but despite the additional room from center, he’d have little time to decide where he was going with the ball.
Donald exploded off the line and there was no fanciness to his game. It wasn’t about quickness or turning the corner with his mind-bending 1.59 10-yard split. He was going directly through the left guard.
He leaned in with his upper body as he struck the blocker, jolting him back and then extending his arms to create separation. Next was his legs, which cut through the grass and powered the blocker back to the quarterback at a rapid rate. Seeing Williams raise his shoulder up to throw the ball, Donald left his feet and attempted to block the throw. He fell short, but his impact was nonetheless felt (4:49).
The terror only stopped when the clock ran out. By the end, Donald registered five hurries, a sack, a pass deflection and a 9.0 on football’s Richter scale.
His quickness and technique reigned superior not only on that day against UNC, but on many others too. It’s why he’s a highly rated prospect, one who could very well be a top-15 selection come May. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise because teams are in desperate need of pass rushers, especially ones on the interior that can quickly disturb a quarterback’s pocket on a quick drop. As more and more teams use a quick game to speed up the movement of the ball, those who are closest to the ball and the passer are going to be more valued.
With Donald possessing an ideal 3-technique skill-set, his value should be sky-high.