I paused while I was walking in the “barn,” or the covered practice field the Steelers share with the University of Pittsburgh at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
I couldn’t help but notice former Pitt star and Los Angeles Ram DT Aaron Donald, working out with his personal trainer.
As a longtime practitioner of several martial arts, I was immediately familiar with the training drill Aaron Donald was working on.
The indigenous art of the Philippines is Kali, a hand-to-hand weaponry and combat system. It’s a lot of fun to train in, and a highly effective form of self-defense.
One of the training exercises is a drill called “Hubud/Lubud”, which means to “tie/untie.” The training drill is based on learning the various angles of attack along with various weapons to attack with. Be it fist, open hand palm strike, elbow, shoulder or even an edged weapon.
Each person will take turns attacking/defending while responding with “trapping hands.” This develops the ability to attack and defend by rendering your opponent unable to counter your attack through blocks, deflections and rapid hand counters.
In a nutshell, it is the ability to use your hands in a phone-booth fighting range and defeat your opponent. To continuously attack and defend in a smooth, linked together fashion, without interruption. If you watch tape closely, you will see Donald expressing the very essence of close quarter combat in the trenches at a high level.
And that is just one of the several unique characteristics that make Donald a great player, a very special player.
A two-time AP Defensive Player of the Year, who has posted over twenty sacks in a single season despite being undersized for a three-technique defensive tackle is something special. And he is impressive in all ways. On the field and off.
Quick enough to play the outside, strong enough to dominate the inside. I have watched Donald line up and take on two 300-pounders on a double-team at the line of scrimmage and stuff them both. Not to mention disengaging from the attempted double-team and still making the tackle.
All this while weighing under 285-pounds and standing around 6-foot-1, give or take an inch.
This week’s Meat-Eater Matchup pits the entire Steelers offensive line against Donald.
Why the entire offensive line you say?
Because during the course of a game Donald will take turns lining up over the left or right guard, maybe he’ll bump out to line up on one of the tackles, and in short yardage he will squeeze into one of the “A” gaps, which puts him on a shoulder of Maurkice Pouncey.
So, throughout the game, while Donald seeks out the best matchup for that down, distance and personnel out there, every lineman will get a shot at Aaron. Or, if you look at it from Donald’s point of view, he gets a shot at everybody on the offensive line.
Donald is explosive, has a natural ability to time the snap, and gets up the field in a hurry. Because he is so quick he will quick-swim or “ghost” an offensive lineman with a quick arm-over technique, leaving that lineman looking around for him like he just disappeared into thin air. And he will do so on a run or pass play.
Donald is extremely hard to cutoff on the backside of a play, will stay square while holding the point of attack. When it comes to “standup grappling,” I have seen Donald throw much bigger men to the ground, routinely, and almost effortlessly.
According to ESPN’s Next Gen stats, he is the most double-teamed player in the NFL. And I have seen teams actually triple-teaming him.
Donald is incredibly strong, has precise hand placement on run defense so as to lock out on an offensive lineman trying to block him and stuff him without getting moved off the line of scrimmage. He has great feet, and agility, and is hard to cut block (a block below the waist to get him off his feet).
While on the pass rush hunt, Donald has been both a penetrator (first man on a twist stunt), and a trailer, (the second man). Power enough to be a penetrating disrupter, fast enough to speed rush as a trailer.
But what really grabs your attention on a pass rush is his close quarter combat hand work. While pass rushing primarily in the “B” gap, Donald displays highly effective trapping, slapping, clubbing and palm striking ability.
Literally he is fighting you while pass rushing you. He’s like Jackie Chan with a facemask.
Because he presents a smaller target surface due to his size, he’s hard to land a square punch on. Donald can use his leverage to uproot (there’s that word again) an opponent. And uproot he does. His power emanates from his lower body and allows him to maul, brawl and slam much bigger opponents. I know I’m repeating myself here, but if you watch Donald enough, it bears repeating.
Steeler’s fans, I’ve watched this young man since high school. I don’t think anybody has figured out how to stop him. You can only, in the words of Mike Tomlin, “try to minimize,” him. He is the disrupter in chief of the Rams defense.
Bottom line, know going into this, that Donald will make some plays. The key is to keep it at “some.” No doubt Donald is a great player. But this is an excellent line as well. This is a battle you don’t want to miss. I for one, am looking forward to it!