Rams Training Camp: Donald has a lot to prove

(News4usonline) – In 2022, Aaron Donald recorded the lowest sack total of his illustrious career. In 11 games, Donald only registered five sacks. Last season was the first time since 2016 that Donald failed to reach double-digits in sacks. 

In previous seasons, the Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman managed to record sack totals of 12.5 in 2021, 13.5 in 2020, 12.5 in 2019, 20.5 in 2018, and 11 takedowns in 2017. Last season was not the Donald didn’t meet his standard of dominance. It felt more like an abbreviation rather than the norm for Donald. 

Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald (99) at training camp on July 29, 2023. Photo by Mark Hammond/News4usonline

So naturally, Donald feels some kind of way in regards to going out in training camp and re-establish himself as the best defensive lineman in the NFL. In speaking to reporters for the first time in training camp, Donald, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, feels like he has something to prove.

“I’ve got a lot to prove,” Donald said. “I didn’t have the season I wanted, obviously coming off of an injury and things like that. I feel like to get to where you need to be, it’s like starting over from scratch again. It’s a brand new year. Last year was last year, but there’s a little fire lit into me.

“I got a little motivation towards that to push me to feel like I’m back on ground one. So I’m trying to get back to where I want to be as a player, as a teammate, as a team overall, and that’s been kind of pushing me a little bit.”   

Durability has been one of Donald’s best attributes since he came into the league in 2014. Up until last season in which he missed six games due to an ankle injury, Donald had played in every single game over nine seasons except for two contests in 2014. That’s a pretty remarkable feat considering the physicality of the position Donald plays. 

“It’s the first time I ever got injured, so it’s different,” Donald said about coming into training camp following his injury. “This offseason I made sure that I was healthy. I made sure I was able to do all the cutting I needed to do. I didn’t want to be limited to anything. 

“I feel good, I feel normal. It’s just more I haven’t played football in a while so it’s just reaction things, little things that you pick up from just playing the game and it’s coming back. I felt better today than I did yesterday and the day before, so it’s getting to where it needs to be.” 

Going into his 10th season, Donald will have to suit up with a lot of new names and faces around him. Familiar faces like Greg Gaines, A’Shawn Robinson, Justin Hollins, Leonard Floyd, and Bobby Wagner will no longer be sitting in the trenches doing battle alongside Donald against opposing offensive linemen. 

Those players have been replaced by the likes of Byron Young, Kobie Turner, Marquise Copeland, Nick Hampton, and Bobby Brown III. Donald acknowledges that this is something that he has to get used to. 

“It’s really different,” Donald said.“Obviously not having the guys you had that had the experience and playing with guys for the past couple years and now it’s like brand new. So just getting the feel for guys, trying to get games running the right way, and communication things. It’s a process, but that’s what camp is for.”

Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald (99) takes a breather during training camp practice on July 29, 2023. Photo by Mark Hammond/News4usonline

So what’s the motivation for Donald going into training camp this season? There are a couple of things. For one, the season after they won the Super Bowl, the Rams nosedived into a 5-12 season in 2022. Donald himself was not at the top of his game. 

With all of that going on, the Rams cleaned house and brought in a ton of new faces with core veterans like Donald, quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Cooper Kupp, and offensive tackle Rob Havenstein being the anchors of the team’s new look. The motivation for Donald and the Rams is to shake off the tailspin they experienced last season and put their best football forward, Donald said.   

“Right now we are just trying to get back on top,” Donald remarked. “Obviously, we didn’t have a [the] season we wanted as a team last year. Now you’re kind of looked over as a team, so I feel like we have got something to prove. So that’s the motivation right there.”