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Sports >  Seattle Seahawks

Could international player Aaron Donkor be more than a project for the Seahawks?

UPDATED: Tue., May 18, 2021

Seattle Seahawks' Aaron Donkor, of Germany, runs a drill during an NFL football rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021, at the team's training facility in Renton, Wash.  (Associated Press)
Seattle Seahawks' Aaron Donkor, of Germany, runs a drill during an NFL football rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021, at the team's training facility in Renton, Wash. (Associated Press)
By Bob Condotta Seattle TImes

SEATTLE – A quick glance at Aaron Donkor’s resume might easily lead to the conclusion that he is something of a project as he begins his Seahawks career.

A native of Goettingen, Germany, Donkor did not play football until 2016 at the age of 21 with a season in his native country. That led to two years at a junior college in New Mexico and playing six games for Arkansas State in 2019.

Now, he is a Seahawk, thanks to the league’s International Player Pathway Program.

A linebacker listed at 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, Donkor participated in his first two NFL practices over the weekend in Seattle’s rookie minicamp.

Like any rookie, Donkor has a lot to learn, but he showed enough for coach Pete Carroll to quickly brush aside the idea that Donkor is a player who will inevitably need more seasoning than anyone else in the camp.

“No, no, he looks very comfortable,” Carroll said Saturday of Donkor. “He’s had a couple plays we showed on highlights yesterday, just running and chasing the football. He looks like he fits in.”

Carroll, of course, is never short of optimism, especially in the heady days of May when the hard work of the offseason is over and he gets to the fun part of coaching on the field.

But Donkor knows there’s no time like the present to make a statement.

“Time is flying and you’ve got to adjust,” he said of what he learned of his time at Arkansas State, which was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. (He did not play football in 2020.)

Adjust is exactly what Donkor did five years ago when he decided to give football a shot, and what he will do now with the Seahawks in making the move from defensive end to linebacker.

He was initially a basketball player in Germany, playing three seasons with BG Goettingen (a club whose alumni include former Washington State standout Taylor Rochestie).

But at the age of 21, he was encouraged to give football a shot and played his first season in 2016 with the Düsseldorf Panther club of the German Football League.

Donkor said he first got acquainted with football during his basketball days when he had a number of teammates from the United States who introduced him to the Madden video game and with whom he’d watch the Super Bowl.

Due to his physical basketball style, he said a few of his teammates told him he should try football.

“I got a little encouragement to try out, see what happens,” he said. “And it was fun; it came easy to me, just flying around.”

His success in Germany led to a chance to play in the United States and two years at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell. From there he went to Arkansas State and had 25 tackles in six games in 2019.

Deciding to turn pro this year, Donkor trained at the IMG Academy in Florida this winter and shined at the NFL international combine, running a 4.46-second 40-yard dash with a 39-inch vertical leap.

That earned him a spot as one of the four players in the league’s International Pathways Program for 2021.

The program originated in 2017 and, according to the NFL, “aims to provide elite international athletes the opportunity to compete at the NFL level, improve their skills, and ultimately earn a spot on an NFL roster.”

The NFC West was chosen at random this year to be the division in which each team would be allocated one player from the program, with Seattle getting Donkor.

Each player does not count against the team’s 90-man roster limit (and Seattle has 91 thanks to Donknor’s presence).

If the international player does not make the initial 53-man roster after training camp, he can then be placed on the practice squad without counting against practice-squad limits.

The caveat is that an IPP player on a practice-squad roster exemption cannot be called up to the active roster during the season.

The practice squad seems like Donkor’s logical destination this season since it would give Seattle essentially a free player to help with practices all season and evaluate and groom for the future.

But it was notable that the Seahawks used Donkor as an inside linebacker during rookie minicamp instead of on the outside.

He was a defensive end at Arkansas State, but his size and speed, the Seahawks think, make him a better fit as an off-ball linebacker.

“He’s played a lot on the end of the line of scrimmage which he won’t do as much for us,” Carroll said Saturday. “He’ll be more behind the line of scrimmage. We need to see how he adapts to that.”

Linebacker – and especially inside – is one position where Seattle could use some depth.

The Seahawks have Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks returning as the starters at the inside spots (middle and weakside, respectively) with K.J. Wright unsigned and any possibility of his return seeming murkier by the day.

Seattle’s other five listed linebackers are Cody Barton, who can play the inside spots but also figures to contend for the outside strongside linebacker position; Ben Burr-Kirven, who plays inside; recently claimed Nate Evans, who was playing at SLB during rookie minicamp; undrafted free-agent rookie signee Jon Rhattigan (who was inside during minicamp) and Donkor.

Darrell Taylor is also being tried as a strongside linebacker in the team’s base defense. With the depth the team has on the defensive line and secondary, Seattle could keep just five linebackers, and Wagner, Brooks, Barton and Burr-Kirven could well be four with Taylor the fifth depending on how his transition goes.

But with Barton and Burr-Kirven (not to mention Wagner) entering the final years of their contracts in 2022, the Seahawks could be looking for some depth down the road.

Donkor said whatever role Seahawks find for him is fine with him – he just wants to have one.

Ultimately, he hopes to follow in the path of a few other players from the program who have carved out careers in the NFL, including Jakob Johnson, a native of Stuttgart, Germany, who has played in 20 games at fullback for the Patriots the past two years with 14 starts.

“My goal for this year is to make this team better, whatever it takes,’’ he said. “And I just have to earn the trust of the coaches, I feel like I have the shot, like every guy on this team, to make (the Seahawks) a special team, if I’m coachable, if I show my effort on the field. And I really, really want to grow and play linebacker, and I feel like my God-given traits just translate to that position. It’s just earning that trust and competing for a position.’’

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