Aaron Donald spoke to journalists in Los Angeles on a video conference on Thursday as he sat in front of the most impressive Zoom background he could think of.
They were not bookshelves. They were not memorabilia. It was a photograph of himself – life-sized, stripped to the waist, and flexing Ram’s most intimidating muscles.
“I just did this for you, just to let you know that I am still working,” said Donald laughing. “I didn’t want you to think I was beating.”
Has anyone seen Aaron Donald relax?
While NFL restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic delayed the start of training on the field, the Rams’ defense equipment has had a diligent low season in northeastern Pittsburgh:
• His workouts are as wonderful as ever, even when the University of Pittsburgh gym is closed, forcing him to lift the bases of his boy’s house with his father, brother and cousin, and his speed work on a nearby field.
• In April, he completed Pitt’s virtual graduation ceremony after graduating in communication with online classes.
“After I was drafted (in the first round in 2014), my mom and dad promised to get my degree,” said Donald. “My older brother has it, my older sister has it. Even though it took a while, I did it. ‘
• Even his downtime was productive. He made mental notes while watching “The last dance,” ESPN’s 10-part series about Michael Jordan and the last season of the Chicago Bulls dynasty. The story of the best basketball player of the 1990s had lessons for the man chosen by peers as the best footballer today.
Donald said he had never previously realized how hard Jordan pushed his teammates and how much he got from personal discomfort.
“That is motivating for me. Looking at that gives you the chills. It makes you want to train and do something to make yourself better, ”said Donald. “I wanted to be a champion. You play the game for that. ”
Donald, who turns 29 on Saturday, May 23, was one of eight players to be unanimously elected to the NFL All-Decade Team for 2010 by the Pro Football Hall of Fame voters in April.
After following his training camp in 2018 with a league-high 20 1/2 sacks and a defensive player of the year award, Donald is unlikely to be held back by this year’s limited preseason.
When he gets his next chance at the championship, he will long to be dependent on others. The Rams went 9-7 and missed last season’s playoffs a year after going to the Super Bowl. And limitations of the salary limits led the team to release with receding Todd Gurley, trade-wide receiver Brandin Cooks, and late edge rusher Dante Fowler, linebacker Cory Littleton and kicker Greg Zuerlein leave as free agents.
In the week of March when Fowler signed with the Falcons, Littleton with the Raiders, and Michael Brockers’ defensive ending with the Ravens, Donald expressed disappointment in a hand-over-face emoji on Twitter.
His mood improved after that Brockers’ deal with Baltimore fell apart 11 days later and the Rams re-signed him.
“I know Aaron finally spoke to me again when we got Michael back,” said Rams coach Sean McVay in April. “He was a little mad at me, I think, for a few days.”
Donald said on Thursday that he had not been really angry.
“If you become a leader and become part of this team, you can talk to these coaches and the people in the back rooms and give your opinion,” said Donald. “I’m here because I want to win. It’s not about individual goals or anything. The goal is to become world champion.
“The more players we can bet to help us, the better we can be.”
Even with Brockers back, Donald said, “We’ve definitely lost some big pieces to the puzzle. I think guys should just go a step further and fill some big shoes. ‘
New defensive coordinator Brandon Staley comes in with new defensive players in A’Shawn Robinson (signed when it looked like Brockers was gone) and outside linebacker in Leonard Floyd and third round draft pick Terrell Lewis. Staley said on Thursday that a top priority in designing the Rams’ defenses is to prevent opposition blockers from doubling Donald.
“You have to make sure that your best players play for you even better,” said Staley. “I think it is with Aaron, he has such an open mind, an open heart, this game means so much to him, he is so open to feedback.
“How can we help him do his job better and maybe lift some weight off his shoulders? If we can have him play against one person instead of two, our chances of success go through the roof. ‘
Donald said he will step up his own workouts to twice a day next week and will continue to anticipate the NFL season.
He hopes that games don’t have to be played in empty stadiums.
“In my opinion, it wouldn’t be fun to play football without fans,” said Donald. “The fans give you that little bit extra when you’re tired and tired.”
NFL training facilities remain closed to players and coaches, and position group meetings are held via video streams.
Donald attends those meetings from Pittsburgh, sometimes with his own photo over his shoulder.
He said he is “camping” to get on the training field and see what muscle power his new teammates have.