Aaron Donald Doesn’t Look Like a Defensive Tackle. So He Reinvented the Position.

Aaron Donald Doesn’t Look Like a Defensive Tackle. So He Reinvented the Position.


Randle never quite reached that total, topping out at 15.5. But contemporaries like La’Roi Glover and Warren Sapp did, and Randle viewed them, and himself, as misfits, fueled by the perception that they weren’t fast enough to play linebacker, big enough to play offensive line or nimble enough to play running back.

Across 14 seasons with Minnesota and Seattle, Randle amassed the most sacks by a defensive tackle in N.F.L. history — 137.5 — by destroying quarterbacks and game plans much as Donald does now, just with less time to get to the quarterback. Donald had a league-leading 106 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. The next closest player, Fletcher Cox of Philadelphia, had 95.

“When you get that interior pressure, they can’t run the sweep, the center can’t pull,” Randle said. “When you’re in the inside, you may not get there, but you’re in the quarterback’s face, and he can’t see because the pressure’s there. He sees you, and he’s more conscious of you. You’re right there in front of him.”

When watching Donald, Randle notices how his feet, hands and eyes work in concert, with a first step so quick that it can be mistaken for reflex. Donald’s arms allow him to get leverage on taller linemen — plural, considering the double teams he faces — beneath their pads, taking away their strength.

“Some guys at that position are top-heavy with skinny little legs, or are big down below but have nothing up top,” Dewayne Brown, who has helped train Donald since 2009 in their native Pittsburgh, said in a telephone interview. “He’s built like a block, totally proportional.”

A secret: Donald may be listed at 285 pounds, but, he said Tuesday, he has been playing at 270, maybe 265. (The Rams’ other defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh, is listed at 6-4 and 307 pounds.) Over texts, Waufle calls Donald a male model and tells him he’s pretty. Donald’s father, Archie, asked Brown to remind his son that he’s not a bodybuilder. In a photo he posted to his Instagram story Monday, a shirtless Donald is shown flexing, muscles bulging, his abdominal muscles clearly defined. Celery has more fat than he does.



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