Part 4 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL draft, which begins on April 27.
Halas Hall will make an impression on any college linebacker. From old jerseys to photographs to portraits on the walls, the glory days of Butkus, Singletary and Urlacher live on.
“It was pretty surreal, to be honest,” West Georgia outside linebacker Dylan Donahue said of walking around the Bears’ headquarters last month. “It was real humbling to see all those big names.”
So much so that Donahue had to say something to Alabama standout linebacker Reuben Foster, who was visiting the Bears at the same time.
“Being the ‘man’ at both of our schools, we were just like, ‘Geez, we really got a lot of work to do to be where these guys have been,’ ” Donahue said. “I’m really glad it happened like that.”
Foster, a potential top-10 pick, is considered one of the best linebackers in the draft. But Donahue, a finalist for the Gene Upshaw Award for the best defensive lineman in Division II college football, shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Bears aren’t the only team interested in Donahue. The Bills, Seahawks, Bengals, Lions, Cardinals, Cowboys and Eagles also are eyeing him, as well.
The Bears want more playmakers at the second level of their defense, and Donahue provides versatility.
“I kind of like the idea of playing on the inside,” said Donahue, who was named the Gulf South Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 after making a conference-record 13.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss.
“Watching people like [former Patriots linebacker] Tedy Bruschi back in the day and how he used to use his pass rush to go and sneak through small holes on the inside and make big plays, that interests me. I think I’ll have a lot of success doing that for someone.”
Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will use his inside linebackers as pass rushers, whether it’s on blitzes or in designed four-man pressures.
“Exactly,” Donahue said. “I think that’s why they like me at that spot.”
Other teams like him inside, too. So in that regard, Donahue is a realist. At 6-3 and 248 pounds, he’s aware that he’s considered undersized to be an NFL outside linebacker.
But that doesn’t mean Donahue, who took part in the NFL combine and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, can’t make it.
It’s one of the many lessons he’s learned from his father, Mitch, a decorated player at Wyoming who played for the 49ers, Broncos and Falcons.
“He just keeps telling me that I have to keep overcoming stuff like he did,” Donahue said.
Donahue did that in college. He produced at every stop, from Montana Western (NAIA) to Palomar College in California (a junior college) to finally West Georgia.
Donahue’s background resonates with teams such as the Bears, who emphasize culture and character.
“I play with my heart and because I love the game,” Donahue said. “I don’t play because of money or fame or any of that. I play for the love of the game at the end of the day. The day that I don’t get to play football anymore is going to be a sad day for me.”
POSITION SPOTLIGHT : OLB
Rating Bears’ need
Leonard Floyd, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston, Roy Robertson-Harris
You should know
Young will turn 32 in September, and Houston will be 30 in June.
The Bears signed Young to a two-year, $11.5 million extension before last season, but most of the financial commitment is set for 2017.
Houston, who tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in Week 2 last season, is in the third year of a five-year contract. Releasing him would free up considerable salary-cap room.
Best of the best
Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett is widely considered the draft’s top prospect. But overall, it’s a deep class for edge defenders.
Solomon Thomas (Stanford), Derek Barnett (Tennessee), Taco Charlton (Michigan), Takkarist McKinley (UCLA), T.J. Watt (Wisconsin), Tim Williams (Alabama) and Ryan Anderson (Alabama) all could be top-50 picks.
‘‘If you don’t draft me No. 1, I will punish your team for the next 10 to 12 years. I’ll knock your QB out of the game every time we play you, and I’ll have to kick the hell out of No. 1, whoever it is.” – Garrett to the Browns (ESPN The Magazine)
— Adam L. Jahns