Fisher: With Donald joining D-line, Rams will 'be hard to deal with' up front

When the Rams used the second of their two first-round draft picks on Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, they strengthened a D-line that already rocked. What does that say to the rest of the NFC West? Watch out.

Defensive tackle Aaron Donald says he already has learned a lot from Rams veterans at OTAs.

Scott Rovak / USA TODAY Sports

ST. LOUIS -- Jeff Fisher isn't afraid to heap praise on rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald, even though it's been only a few weeks since the NFL Draft and not even one full week since the start of Rams OTAs.

"Aaron Donald, our second first-round pick, is going to be a difference-maker inside," Fisher told NFL Network during an interview last week. "It's what we need. We've got such tremendous talent at the defensive end position, now with Aaron in there (at defensive tackle), with Mike Brockers and Kendall (Langford), we've got a solid front. We're going to be hard to deal with, I think, from a front standpoint."

The veteran NFL coach, who is entering his third season with the Rams, wasn't finished with his praise of his new defensive tackle.

"We sat there, going into the draft at 2 and 13, thinking, 'OK, who's going to maybe be there at 13?' There's really no way we thought Aaron would fall. He fell," Fisher told the network. "... We can use his special traits. He's an outstanding young man, very, very talented. Way ahead as far as pass rush is concerned with his hand use and things. He's going to be an explosive, dynamic player for us."

That's extremely high praise for a 22-year-old who has yet to make his NFL debut, but it's not like Donald came out of nowhere. He'll need to use a chunk of his signing bonus on a trophy case to hold all of his awards from his senior season at Pitt.

-- Bronko Nagurski Trophy for nation's most outstanding defensive player.

-- Chuck Bedarik Award for national defensive player of the year.

-- Outland Trophy as nation's best offensive or defensive interior lineman.

-- Rotary Lombardi Award for nation's most outstanding lineman or linebacker.

He also was selected the national defensive player of the year by Athlon Sports, and Lindy's Sports and an All-American by just about every outlet you can think of.

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But Donald isn't resting on his laurels, however impressive they may be. He's been attacking his craft during OTAs just like he attacked opposing quarterbacks at Pitt.

"I've been learning a lot from the older guys," Donald told reporters following the Rams' third OTA session on Friday. "I feel like it'll be really beneficial."

The 6-foot-1, 290-pounder -- he said he's up five pounds from his listed weight of 285 last season with the Panthers -- is getting used to the competition at the NFL level and doing whatever he can to try to fit in and get better.

"You've got to step your game up," Donald said. "I've been watching (Michael) Brockers nonstop on film, been watching (Robert) Quinn. They're all making plays."

If the rookie defensive tackle can make plays like Brockers and Quinn, who led the NFC with 19 sacks in 2013, then the quarterbacks of the NFC West -- we're looking at you, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Carson Palmer -- will have another reason to be fearful of the Rams.

Donald joins a defensive unit that ranked third in the NFL last season in sacks (53), ninth in fewest rushing yards allowed per game (102.9), 14th in fewest passing yards allowed per game (242.1), 18th in fewest total yards per game (345.0) and 20th in fewest points per game (22.8). The addition of Donald and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams figures to make that unit even stronger.

"Well, we have to be good," Fisher told reporters last week. "We have to be very good to compete in the division, and I think we've got a chance to do that. We're still going to bring some young guys along, but (we're) going to be impressive up front, particularly because of what the guys were able to do the last couple of years."

Based on the D-line's past performance and what Fisher already has seen of Donald, being "impressive up front" seems quite likely.

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