Aaron Donald says he’s in ‘the best shape of my life’ ahead of Rams 2023 season – NBC Los Angeles

on Aug19
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It’s a rarity for one of the best players in NFL history to have such a long layoff between games, especially in the prime of their career.

Yet that will be the case when three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year winner Aaron Donald takes the field on September 10. Donald played in a game for the Los Angeles Rams on November 27, 2022. An ankle injury cut short his season after just 11 games, but surgery, rest, recuperation, and a longer than normal offseason has given Donald the opportunity to come back stronger, faster, and better.

“I’m in the best shape of my life,” Donald told HauteLiving.com in a recent interview. “I feel like my strength is where it needs to be. I’m coming off ankle surgery this season, so I’m trying to keep my body in top shape, pretty much training Monday through Friday and sometimes Saturdays.”

Donald also pointed to his new diet as another reason why he considers himself in the best shape of his life.

“I’m trying to stay away from a lot of fried food, sugars, and things that can cause inflammation,” said Donald. “I eat a lot of protein. If I eat certain bad stuff, I just feel like I have to work out…I grew up a chubby little kid, and I try as hard as I can to not get back to that chubby little kid. I’m scared of that guy, because I like to take my shirt off and look good. So I’m trying to make sure I’m healthy for football, but also for life.”

Donald is just 32 years old and still in the prime of his career. He’s coming off one of his worst statistical seasons in 2022 where he recorded just five sacks in those 11 games. That’s a far cry from the player who tallied nearly 50 sacks between 2018 and 2021.

NFL: AUG 03 Los Angeles Rams Training Camp

Aaron Donald #99 during the Los Angeles Rams Training Camp on August 03, 2023, at UC Irvine in Irvine, CA. (Photo by Icon Sportswire)

The Rams won the Super Bowl in February of 2022, thanks in large part to Donald who made the final two defensive stops that sealed the victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Donald contemplated retirement after the victory, but still felt he had a lot more football left in him. Now, the future first-ballot Hall of Famer is hoping he can lead a young and inexperienced defense back to the postseason in 2023.

“I just want to keep seeing guys getting better, being more productive in the game,” Donald said about the Rams’ young defense. “Seeing what I see when it comes to practice, how they play and making plays and being productive. I just want to see that come game time. But again, it’s a process, sill got time, but it’s getting a little closer and we just got to keep working.”

Donald said he’s getting more players asking for help and advice than he ever has in his career. During that Super Bowl run in 2022, thanks to the help of veterans like Von Miller, Jalen Ramsey, and Eric Weddle, Donald took on more of vocal leadership role with the team that helped carry them to the championship.

Now in his 10th season, all of those veteran defensive players around him are gone. In their place is younger players, rookies, and undrafted free agents. The new-look roster on both sides of the ball this season is part of the Rams’ “remodel” approach to the offseason. Looking for ways to cut payroll, the Rams cut ties with six of their seven top tacklers from the 2022 season, along with all six of their top defensive players based on snap count. Instead of replacing those players through free agency, they did it from within their own roster and the draft.

Donald and linebackers Ernest Jones and Michael Hoecht are the only key contributors from last season. Donald’s daunting task of getting the defense to where it needs to be in order to get back to the playoffs will be a long and arduous one. One that requires patience and teaching, something Donald has not been accustomed to in the Sean McVay era.

“I feel like adversity can do two things to you,” said Donald last fall. “It can keep you down or it can motivate you and make you work that much harder. We understand what we need to do to get back on track. It’s just bringing the young guys along that don’t have that much experience and making them comfortable. They have that same mindset we got, but that’s us as leaders, bringing the guys along, talking to the guys, trying to find ways to build their confidence up any way we can.”

Donald is not expected to play in the Rams two remaining preseason games, but is expected to start at defensive tackle in the team’s opener against the Seattle Seahawks. It will be the first time Donald has seen the field in over 10 months, but there’s no doubt that he will have an impact on the game.

The Rams 2023 campaign kicks of at 1:25PM on September 10 from Lumen Field in Seattle.

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