Pitt defensive lineman Darryl Render said he tries not to think about who he’s tasked with replacing this spring: former defensive tackle Aaron Donald, winner of the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Chuck Bednarik Award, Outland Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award.
No, really -- he’s going to need some help.
Render was Donald’s backup in each of the past two seasons, so his is the first name associated with taking over the spot previously held by one of Pitt’s most decorated players. Nobody on the defense, though, is the next Donald, which means it’s going to be a group effort to replace the likely first-round NFL draft pick.
“It’s going to be one big unit,” Render told reporters after Tuesday’s practice. “We’ve got to work together. Everybody is going to have to make plays. We’re not going to have that one guy who can make every play. Everyone has to give a lending hand. We’re still going to handle our business on the D-line, no doubt. Just because one guy left doesn’t mean the whole D-line is going to fall apart. We’re going to keep going, keep that same thing up.”
It starts with Render.
His 23 tackles last season led all returning defensive linemen. His lone start in 2013 came against Georgia Tech, when he had a career-high seven tackles and the first fumble recovery of his career (a fumble that happened to be forced by -- you guessed it -- Donald).
“I think he’s tackling a lot of things that he can control, and how that turns out, we don’t know, right?” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said about Render. “But I like the way that he’s going about his business. ... I think he acts like a guy who knows what’s important. He’s not trying to be someone different than who he is, but I like the way that he’s working.”
Also at tackle is LaQuentin Smith and redshirt freshmen Justin Moody and Trent Neavin. At nose guard, junior Khaynin Mosley-Smith is a returning letterman who redshirted last season but has played in 26 career games with one start.
Render said there’s one advantage to all of the new faces up front: the element of surprise.
“All eyes were on AD,” Render said. “We tried to take a little bit of attention off of him and free him up a little bit last year, but now that he’s gone, they’re not going to know who’s going to do what. We’re going to try to surprise them.”
It shouldn’t be too difficult. Without Donald, not even Pitt knows what to expect just yet.