Surprised? There’s very little about the Steelers pass rush or defensive line that should obligate them to staying inside the '0 and 5 technique' box. Donald is one of the best overall players in this draft, in our opinion, and we have faith in Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to spend some time in the lab scheming up ways to get Donald on the field.
Would he stand up and rush off the edge? Maybe. He’s only an inch shorter than LaMarr Woodley, and weighed probably 10 pounds heavier, but he’s still faster in short spaces.
Will he rush the A gap? Why not? His first step is as explosive as any other player in the draft. Penetration leads to pressure leads to sacks and turnovers - two things the Steelers really haven't generated the last three seasons. Keep doing what you’re doing, and you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.
Call it the Pressure Revolution. There are plenty of players every year who help a team re-define how it plays defense. The question here isn't the likely amount of ridicule the BTSC Draft Committee will endure (he who laughs last). The question is how many other teams are willing to concede not just that the NFL is about passing the football, but that defense now must be played with pressure on the passer as the top priority.
This game is no longer about a base defense. Or, sub packages are now a team's base defense.
This notion is lost on SB Nation draft analyst Dan Kadar, who, in slamming the pick, reveals his lack of understanding of the fact the Steelers have spent more time in nickel and dime packages the last two years than their base. And of those sub packages, one that comes out consistently is their Big Nickel - four defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs. They are fully capable of playing interior linemen at the 1 and 3 technique positions.
The value Donald here is fine. That's without dispute. The fit on Pittsburgh just isn't. It's one thing to take a college defensive end and shift him out to standing up at linebacker. It's another to try and do it with a defensive tackle. If Donald is lining up as an end in a 3-4, he doesn't have the length to be effective in that role.
We don't intend to ask him to stand up and play linebacker. Our plan isn't to have him laid in cement at the 5-technique position. Our plan is to put a guy with amazing quickness and explosion into a position to succeed as the opportunity arises each week.
How 'atypical' DL are changing the game
Aaron Donald is not a typical 3-4 defensive end, but he compares to Geno Atkins - and what Atkins can do is definitely not scheme-specific.
We've learned that from watching Cincinnati DL Geno Atkins beat the gold off the pants of so many Steelers offensive linemen. And what's really weird, Atkins and Donald have such similar measurements, it's scary. Donald is 6-foot-1, 285 pounds with 32 5/8 inch arms. Atkins, at the Combine in 2009, was 6-foot-1, 293 pounds with 32 inch arms. He was also viewed primarily as a 3-technique defensive tackle, but he didn't earn his status among the best defensive linemen in the game by being used in that spot come hell or high water. Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer (now the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings) recognized the universal trait he has - quickness - and instead of trying to force him inside the proverbial box, they got out of it, and used him in multiple roles.
The specialization of defense today isn't a re-invention of the wheel.The 3-4 defense itself was created to provide a team with more athleticism by putting on an extra linebacker. Defenses are countering the emergence of slot tight ends with hybrid defensive backs who can defend the run like a safety and can cover the slot. The Seattle Seahawks dominated the NFL with a massive group of pass rushers moving around the formation and subbing in and out.
Donald is, in our estimation, a more athletic version of Atkins, and we feel fortunate 14 other teams decided to go in a different direction. We feel Steelers Associated Head Coach/Defensive Line John Mitchell is the best position coach in the game, and his track record over time speaks volumes to our confidence.
The days of front seven players being on the field for all but three or four plays a game are over. We can set Donald up in the right situations, exploit opponents' weaknesses, and force them to prepare for him coming at their quarterback through the A gap, off the edge or anywhere else, land, air or sea, on whatever down and distance. His quickness and explosive athleticism are what's important here, not where the conventional thinkers feel he best fits.
He plays high-impact defensive football. He plays Steelers football.