Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Bucs have work cut out in stopping Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald

TAMPA — Weeks before the Bucs play an opponent, an advance scout looks ahead to analyze and anticipate the biggest challenges awaiting Tampa Bay's players and coaches.

So consider Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter forewarned about Rams phenom Aaron Donald, who leads NFL defensive tackles with 11 sacks in just his second season.

"He told me (Donald) was on the same level as (Texans star ) J.J. Watt," Koetter said Tuesday, preparing for Thursday night's game in St. Louis. "I thought to myself, 'Wow, that's hard to believe.' Then it came my time to watch the tape and I said, 'Oh, wow. He's on the same level as J.J. Watt.' This guy is having a fantastic year. Definitely a game-wrecker for this game."

Donald, 24, was drafted 12th overall by the Rams in 2014, and has 20 total sacks in two seasons, making a case this year for NFL defensive player of the year. He has at least one sack in four of his past five games, including three in last week's win over Detroit.

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has been busy scouting the Rams offense and ways to contain rookie running back Todd Gurley on Thursday night, but the fan in him enjoys watching Donald disrupt games from the interior.

"He's so explosive," McCoy said Tuesday. "The thing about him is he's a small guy (6 feet, 284 pounds), which helps. It's hard to get underneath his pads, but then he's a freak athlete. If you go back to his combine numbers, he had exceptional numbers."

Donald ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds, easily the fastest for a defensive tackle and faster than all but four defensive ends. Bucs starting end Howard Jones was faster at 4.60, but he weighs 50 pounds less than Donald, who was the second-strongest defensive lineman in his class with 35 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press.

"Not only that, he can play the game," McCoy continued. "I love watching him. I'm a fan of football and any defensive lineman that can play the game … he's very fun for me to watch."

It might not be fun for Bucs coach Lovie Smith to watch Donald, but he too is a fan of the Rams standout, one of the few interior pass rushers with more sacks this season than McCoy's seven.

"I thought he was a great player coming out of college," Smith said. "When I say great, there are a lot of players inside that can play the run, but he's a legitimate pass-rusher. It's a tough duty. He's a guy you have to double most of the time … great quickness, great strength. Will be a good matchup for our guards."

Smith mentioned that Donald was coached at Pittsburgh by veteran college coach Bob Junko, who was Tulsa's defensive coordinator in 1976 when Smith was a freshman linebacker.

"I recruited Lovie and then I got to coach him as a freshman," said Junko, 69. "He was unbelievable, played linebacker at 176 pounds. That year, we went over and beat (then-No. 9) Arkansas. He was unbelievable."

Junko said Donald and Smith have something in common in their dedication to learning the game and every detail possible to gain an advantage on opponents.

"Aaron was like Lovie — they worked at their game, had an innate ability to take what was on the film onto the field with them," Junko said. "You try to teach them that, but Aaron and Lovie understood difficult things like stances and line splits, backfield sets. They studied the game, and that's what separated them."

Contact Greg Auman at and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.

Bucs have work cut out in stopping Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald 12/15/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2015 8:20pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. For starters: Rays at Orioles, with Cobb on hill, Beckham in lineup


    UPDATE, 3:46: After sitting out Thursday in recovering from extraction of a tooth, former Rays SS Tim Beckham is in the Orioles lineup tonight for his first game against his ex-mates, batting leadoff and playing short.

  2. Bucs defensive end Chris Baker (90) is seen during training camp last month at One Buc Place. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  3. Bucs' defensive attributes in opener included flexibility


    TAMPA — It's a blink-and-you-miss-it nuance, but in Sunday's opener against Chicago, on their very first defensive snap, the Bucs lined up in a 3-4 defense.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter shakes hands with cornerback Brent Grimes (24) before an NFL game between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times 

  4. Bucs-Vikings: What if O.J. Howard and Dalvin Cook had both been taken?


    So what if the Bucs had taken neither O.J. Howard nor Dalvin Cook with the 19th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft?

    Bucs tight end O.J. Howard (80) makes a reception as Chicago Bears free safety Eddie Jackson (39) tackles him Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. Wish the Bucs had taken Dalvin Cook? Read this


    It will happen sometime Sunday afternoon.

    Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) carries the ball in the second quarter Monday night, Sept. 11, 2017 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn.  (Jeff Wheeler/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)