Donald ducks Wilson comparison

He has yet to record a sack, a tackle or an interception. But he's already being compared to one of the greatest linebackers in University of Tennessee history.

Moments after trotting onto Shields-Watkins Field for Saturday's Picture Day, freshman Chris Donald was asked about being likened to ex-Vol Al Wilson. To his credit, Donald dismissed the premature praise with a shrug.

"It's good," he said. "But I'm just going to keep working hard, keep learning and go from there."

Certainly, there are similarities. Like Wilson, Donald (Huntington) is a native Tennessean. Like Wilson, Donald (6-2, 228) is an imposing physical specimen. Like Wilson, Donald is a heralded prospect, having earned Parade All-America honors last fall. And, like Wilson, Donald specializes in bone-jarring hits.

"You can ask anybody: I love hitting," he said. "I guess that's what I was brought up to do. That's me."

Donald didn't get to hit anybody in Friday's or Saturday's workouts. He won't get to lay any licks on Monday, either. The first contact practice will be Tuesday. Needless to say, he can't wait.

"Yesterday (Friday) was good – uptempo, and I learned a lot," he said. "But now I'm ready to put the pads on and start hitting."

Once the pads go on Tennessee's coaches – and probably Tennessee's running backs – should find out why Donald was one of the most prized linebacker prospects in America last winter.

"I have a nose for the ball, making plays," he said. "Now I need to learn the plays, get my timing down, keep watching film and keep getting better."

Cracking Tennessee's linebacker rotation will not be easy, even for one so talented. Jerod Mayo and Ryan Karl are returning starters from 2006, and Rico McCoy is one of the team's finest pure athletes. Second-teamers Ellix Wilson, Adam Myers-White and Dorian Davis could start for a lot of schools.

Given the level of veteran talent ahead of him, Donald may have to contribute on special teams for the first half of the 2007 season. That's fine, he says.

"If that's where they put me, I'm going to give it 110 percent," he said, adding that he "played a little special teams in the past but not too much."

Donald said he has gained five pounds of muscle since he graduated from Huntington High two months ago.

"They've been running us a lot, getting us in shape," he said. "That's made a big difference. I'm going to keep getting better, keep getting bigger and stronger."

Perhaps due to the added bulk, Donald says he ran a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash earlier this summer. Once he adjusts to the extra weight he expects to get his speed back to its usual level.

"It's just that I've been introduced to a different weight program," he said. "I'm going to get it back to 4.5."

Donald will open his career at middle linebacker, where Mayo, Wilson and walk-on Nick Reveiz currently rank 1-2-3 on the depth chart. He has already noticed one attribute the veterans have going for them.

"I noticed how fundamentally sound they are," he said. "They do everything fast and right. I'm going to have to get on that level."

When he does, those Al Wilson comparisons might not seem quite so premature.

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