LOS ANGELES -- Dewayne Brown, a speed and agility coach based out of Pittsburgh, has been training Aaron Donald every offseason since he was a teenager. Last year, Brown spent an entire spring and summer with the Los Angeles Rams' star defensive tackle, putting Donald through a circuit of high-intensity training while Donald held out for a more lucrative contract. Donald went on to be named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2017, but that only worked to maximize his motivation.
This year, Brown senses an even greater level of intensity from Donald, one he never considered attainable.
"Aaron’s on some Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan-type stuff," Brown said, "where now he's going to make his teammates play up to his level."
A glimpse of that surfaced through social media last week and went viral. Brown recorded a video on his smartphone of Donald dodging knives as part of a hand-speed drill and posted it on his Twitter account. The video aired on several ESPN programs and was picked up by a handful of other national outlets, including NFL Network, Yahoo! and Barstool Sports.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 2, 2018
Somebody even made this GIF about it.
One very important note: The knives are not real. They're meant for training and are made of a hard rubber that won't penetrate the skin. The man wielding those knives, with thick pads on his arms to sustain the blows from Donald's lightning-quick hands, is Al Carson, better known as "Poodie."
Carson, 49, is a longtime police officer who teaches law enforcement and civilians a fighting system called Krav Maga, which was originally developed by the Israel Defense Forces. Carson learned the techniques from a man named David Kahn, the U.S. chief instructor of Krav Maga and a former football player at Princeton. Kahn began adapting the principles of Krav Maga for football players, and Carson, who is also an assistant football coach at a high school near Pittsburgh, began doing the same for professional athletes a couple of years ago.
"We teach them to attack the attacker," Carson said, "or a counter to the counter."
Carson has spent the past two months working with Donald, taking him through a variety of Krav Maga drills three times a week, immediately after he finishes his high-intensity training with Brown.
"I am very, very impressed with Aaron," Carson said. "His hands are just -- they’re at a different level compared to the average NFL player. And his eye-and-hand-and-feet coordination are just superior to a lot of the NFL players that I’ve trained. I can truly understand why he is the best defensive player in the NFL, because he’s a different breed. When God made Aaron Donald, he only made one of him."
The viral video of Donald dodging knives is only a sampling of a larger concept that, in theory, provides defensive linemen with the hand skills to shed blocks as quickly and as forcefully as possible.
Brown, who trains Donald through his company, 2/10ths Speed & Agility, is constantly searching for unique training methods to challenge Donald and the other NFL players who regularly train with him. His system puts linemen through drills traditionally reserved for skill-position players, giving them superior footwork for their positions. But Brown was looking for ways to also speed up his players' hands, and this year he called on Carson to implement an unconventional system.
Donald embraced it.
"Aaron’s a fast learner," Brown said. "Yeah, he’s quick, his first step. He’s explosive, he’s strong. But Aaron’s anticipation is the No. 1 thing that separates him from everybody else. He anticipates snaps; he anticipates how people are lined up."
And he anticipates knives.
Donald, who will team up with another dominant interior lineman in Ndamukong Suh this fall with the Rams, has been named first-team All-Pro after each of his past three seasons. Donald's 39 sacks from 2014 to 2017 led all defensive tackles. His 91 total pressures this past season, a measurement used by Pro Football Focus, led all players.
But part of Donald -- a part Brown sees often -- believes he hasn't yet played his best football.
"He's even more motivated now," Brown said, "and I think his goal is to become the best defensive lineman in the history of the game. We don’t know if he’s going to get there yet, but I think that’s his goal."