THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) Tanzel Smart and Ejuan Price share the same admiration for Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. However, that respect was built from different vantage points.
Price was a college teammate of Donald’s at Pittsburgh for three seasons, watching him dominate the Big East and Atlantic Coast Conference up close. Smart was just starting his collegiate career at Tulane as Donald was closing his out by receiving multiple national awards and honors.
Now, the defensive tackle Smart and outside linebacker Price hope to carve out successful NFL careers with the Rams by using Donald as a role model and resource.
”It’s crazy because I was a college player the same time he was,” Smart said. ”I was a sophomore in college and I just kept hearing his name, `Aaron Donald this, Aaron Donald that.’”
Smart, who was drafted in the sixth round, and Price, a seventh-round selection, already share one trait with Donald. All three lack the prototypical physical attributes typically associated with their given positions at the professional level. Price describes himself as a ”short, rangy guy” without the usual wingspan of a pass-rusher, while the stocky 296-pound Smart is built like Donald.
But height and weight aren’t everything. Both newcomers recognize that Donald has become a two-time first-team All-Pro because of force of will, something they identified years ago. Price saw it in the weight room, on the practice field and at the ping-pong table, where Donald usually bested his fellow Panthers.
Price hopes to get a chance to avenge those defeats, eventually.
”Don’t say that yet. Let me practice for a couple weeks,” Price said with a laugh.
Smart spotted Donald’s relentless competitiveness from watching him on tape.
”He’s just not going to be stopped, no matter what,” Smart said.
Smart similarly cites his heart as one of his best attributes, along with quickness off the ball and hand usage. Those traits allowed him to accumulate 18 1/2 tackles for loss with 5 1/2 sacks as a senior, earning first-team honors in the American Athletic Conference in each of his last two seasons.
Smart will need to display those disruptive tendencies to find a role in the Rams’ deep defensive line, alongside Donald, Michael Brockers and Dominique Easley. Coincidentally, that accumulation of talent up front is what Smart knew about the Rams before he was drafted by them.
”That’s the first thing that went in my head,” Smart said. ”Learning from all those guys like Brockers, (Robert) Quinn and Aaron Donald, it’s just going to be amazing.”
Price, who alternated between defensive end and outside linebacker at Pitt, is also looking forward to trading tips with Donald. They briefly reconnected after Price was drafted, and will get to do so more formally in the weeks to come.
”We kind of working against some of the same disadvantages,” Price said. ”I’ll definitely pick his brain and steal some of his moves.”
The Rams concluded their two-day rookie minicamp on Saturday, leaving Smart and Price upbeat about their prospects in spite of a format not exactly conducive to showing off their particular skill sets. Head coach Sean McVay used more 7-on-7 work, which made sense given the Rams’ needs at wide receiver and cornerback. Smart was one of three defensive linemen in attendance, while Price was among the five outside linebackers participating.
”I mean, it was my first foot in the door, so it was definitely a great learning experience,” Price said. ”I’m definitely fired up and ready to get going and continue to keep working.”
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