No. 34 -- SS Tommy Donatell

Penn State's Devon Smith (20) recovers his own fumble as he is hit by Iowa's Tom Donatell (13) during the first half of
Penn State's Devon Smith (20) recovers his own fumble as he is hit by Iowa's Tom Donatell (13) during the first half of their game Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Penn. (Brian Ray/ SourceMedia Group News)


Arrival: Seems like five years ago (it's been five years) when the 6-2, 205-pounder arrived as a walk-on quarterback. He's still a walk-on, but he's also been an extremely unselfish player, going wherever he was needed.

Last season against Northwestern, James Morris' ankle injury kept him sidelined. Outside linebacker Tyler Nielsen moved to the middle, and Donatell and his rangy 205-ish pound frame shifted from strong safety to outside linebacker. He finished with seven solo tackles.

Donatell, whose father, Ed, is a longtime NFL assistant now in his second season as the 49ers' secondary coach, was moved in and out of the lineup against Northwestern. Quinton Alston played the inside and Nielsen took the outside spot on clear running downs. This also wasn't a ticket to the starting lineup.

He started the next week against Indiana and then didn't play on defense again until Morris injured an ankle in the first half against Oklahoma.

2012 Takeoff: Going into summer 2012, Donatell finds himself back at strong safety. He sits No. 2 on the depth chart behind Nico Law. This is probably his best bet to see the field.

Linebacker is locked down as far as a top four goes. Also, weight would be an issue over the long haul. Iowa's mentality toward linebackers started to shift slightly to lighter, faster models last season under Darrell Wilson, but 205 would be a stretch in the Big Ten.

Law is a true sophomore getting his first crack at No. 1. That's a name on the depth chart that isn't written in ink, at least not yet. This is the move for a player who's obviously hungry for some payoff to the work he's put in.Donatell will again be counted on for special teams. Still, his versatility, knowledge of the defense, experience and willingness to do whatever he's asked is invaluable.