Jadeveon Clowney gets all the headlines, but players also singled out the dominance of Aaron Donald (top). (Don Wright/AP)
INDIANAPOLIS -- Offensive linemen work as a group, but individual battles are supremely important at every position on the line. Prove that you can handle the best one-on-one matchups, and you have a chance to place yourself very highly in the draft.
With that thought in mind, and with the offensive linemen going through the media blast on Thursday at the scouting combine, we asked a large group of those players who their toughest collegiate opponents were. The leaders? South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald, with three mentions each.
OT Cameron Fleming, Stanford: "[Former USC end and current Packers OLB] Nick Perry. Because of his speed in the pass rush. I mean, you usually get somebody who's big and wants to bull-rush you, or somebody who's fast and wants to get around the edge. He had both, and he was able to do it with his hand on the ground, which was impressive to me."
C Tyler Larsen, Utah: "I would say ... in the Senior Bowl, I went up against [Pitt defensive tackle] Aaron Donald. He's a great DT. He has that strength and quickness off the ball. I would say him, by far."
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OL Joel Bitonio, Nevada: "Probably either Anthony Barr from UCLA, or Demarcus Lawrence from Boise State. Lawrence is a good athlete -- he moves around well and he changes up his moves pretty well when he's pass-rushing. He's a pretty versatile guy with a good motor. Barr's long and athletic -- he plays hard. That type of stuff. Everything everyone writes about him [laughs]."
OT Charles Leno, Boise State: "Ezekiel Ansah. His arm length was a little bit longer ... he got his arms on me first, and extended them, and it was pretty hard. I've got long arms, but he always got on me first. It was pretty tough."
OG Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA: "I'd have to say Star Lotulelei. He's with the Carolina Panthers now, but I faced him in his last year [at Utah]. He's a big, strong, physical player. For his strength and size, he had speed and quickness I didn't see a lot from guys that big. You see him moving like that, and he proved to be a challenge on every play. I had to bring my A-game against him."
OT Justin Britt, Missouri: "Probably Jadeveon Clowney. He's a lot stronger than he might look, and he looks pretty strong. That 4.4 speed I think you'll see this weekend -- that really plays a role when you're playing defensive end. When you're playing tackle and he's trying to back up, it's very challenging. Overall, he's just a very explosive player. He has that God-gifted ability."
OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M: "Well, we played a lot of good colleges ... any time you play Alabama, LSU, Missouri -- all those teams. But I thought Kony Ealy from Missouri was great. Real aggressive, big and strong, mixed up his pass rush moves really well. He was really aggressive coming off the ball in the run game, and he was good with hands. He did a really good job of mixing all that up. Guys who mix it up well are always the toughest to face."
C Travis Swanson, Arkansas: "I would say [former Alabama and current Bills DT] Marcel Dareus. Obviously, he was a very high draft pick for that reason. Just a mountain of a man. I also played against [ex-Auburn and current Lions DT] Nick Fairley. Played against [former LSU DT] Drake Nevis as well. So, I played against a lot of very talented interior defensive linemen early in my career, which helped me a bunch in the latter part of my career."
C James Stone, Tennessee: "I mean, I've faced some guys like Marcel Dareus and [Florida DT] Dominique Easley and [former Alabama and current Patriots LB] Dont'a Hightower, [former Missouri and current Jets DT] Sheldon Richardson -- I've faced some pretty good guys. But I'd have to say Dominique Easley. He had a way of timing the snap and getting off the ball and using his hands well. He's definitely one of the most impressive."
T Taylor Lewan, Michigan: "Jadaveon Clowney, absolutely. That [bowl] game was unreal, having a month to prepare for a guy like that, knowing he was going to be a top five pick in the NFL draft -– just taking the time I had to watch his film, I put myself in an NFL situation. I spent the extra hours at night, which you have to do when this is your job. And I felt like I played one of my best games against him."
C Weston Richburg, Colorado State: "Aaron Donald at the Senior Bowl. It was only for a couple of days, but he's a really good player. He may be smaller than a normal guy [at his position], but he's very fast. I think he's got a lot of good things ahead of him. He's maybe closer to me than he is to a guard, so he's going to try and get my edge really quick. It's really important for me to try and get back, and get my hands on him. That's something I was faced with, facing him."
OG David Yankey, Stanford: "The toughest defender was probably Stephon Tuitt, the defensive end at Notre Dame. Really big guy. Solid all around. I think he has one of the best games all around."
G/T Zack Martin, Notre Dame: "[Pittsburgh's] Aaron Donald, we saw each other the last couple years. I'm not surprised that he would be able to make the jump."
T Michael Schofield, Michigan: "I matched up against Jadeveon Clowney for one series [in the 2013 Outback Bowl]. That was hardest series of my life. ... The hype is legit."
T Ja'Wuan James, Tennessee:
"Michael Sam. He's a high-motor guy, I was talking about it last year, I was asked who was the most underrated player and I said Michael Sam. He's a guy that plays with high energy, high motor and competed from the first play to the last play of the game."