GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Pittsburgh senior DT Aaron Donald has an NFL role model in Cincinnati Bengals DT Geno Atkins.
Atkins' production -- he has 20 sacks and six forced fumbles in the past two seasons -- impresses Donald. And Atkins' height -- he's listed at 6-foot-1 -- gives the 6-foot Donald hope that NFL teams will overlook his lack of size.
Donald certainly has produced on the field for Pitt. He is heading into his third year as a starter and has 122 tackles, 37.5 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks and 27 quarterback hurries in his career. Donald attributes his success to having "a great motor, a nose for the ball. I like to fly around."
He is extremely quick off the ball, and he showed that in 2011, when he played defensive end and had 11 sacks. But he prefers playing tackle, even if he is the focal point of a lot of in-fighting in the middle of the line.
The big thing he worked on this offseason was "defeating double-teams more consistently," he said Sunday at the 2013 ACC Football Kickoff media event.
Donald said he watches tape on Atkins as often as he can and tries to imitate him. He also likes watching tape of Detroit Lions DT Ndamukong Suh, saying he likes Suh's "bully mindset" on the field.
This season will be the first time in Donald's career that he has played for the same head coach in back-to-back seasons. But he will be toiling under a fourth defensive coordinator in as many seasons.
Donald was a Dave Wannstedt recruit, and his freshman season in 2010 was Wannstedt's last as Pitt's coach -- the coordinator that season was Phil Bennett. Wannstedt was replaced by Mike Haywood, who was fired less than a month after he was hired after he was involved in a domestic disturbance. Todd Graham was hired and coached Pitt in 2011 -- his coordinator was Keith Patterson. Graham left after that season for Arizona State and was replaced by Paul Chryst, whose coordinator last season was Dave Huxtable. Huxtable left for North Carolina State in December, and Chryst promoted Matt House from safeties coach to coordinator in March. Whew.
Donald expressed relief Sunday when asked about the relative stability of the staff, saying simply, "The coaches know us," and pointing out that the defense finally would be playing the same scheme for a second year in a row.
Donald should thrive in that scheme, and one thing to consider is this: As well as Atkins has played in his three seasons with the Bengals, Donald's stats at Pitt already are better across the board than Atkins' at Georgia (120 tackles, 33.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks).