THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — One week after Aaron Donald ended his four-month contract holdout, the All-Pro defensive lineman will go straight into the Los Angeles Rams’ starting lineup.
Most players would struggle with that swift transition. Donald and the Rams know he can do just about anything.
Donald went through his first full practice Wednesday since reporting to the team last weekend, and coach Sean McVay was impressed by his form after missing all of training camp and the preseason. McVay expects Donald to start when the Rams (1-0) host the Washington Redskins on Sunday, although nobody is sure how much he will play.
“I love football, so being away from it definitely was tough,” Donald said. “(The holdout) was a decision I made. The way I chose to handle it was the way I chose to handle it. I’m here now.”
The three-time Pro Bowl tackle is playing for $1.8 million this season after failing to reach agreement with the Rams on a contract that likely would have made him the highest-paid defensive player in football. He declined to elaborate on his rationale for holding out while under contract to the Rams for the next two seasons, or why he ended the holdout one day before the season opener.
“Just business, that’s all,” he said.
But Donald clearly isn’t second-guessing his strategy or its architects: He met reporters while wearing a T-shirt with the logo of his agents’ company, rather than Rams gear. The Rams have said they will continue to negotiate a new deal with Donald’s representatives during the season.
Donald revealed no frustration or anger with the Rams, who went through months of respectful negotiations with Donald’s agents. The fourth-year pro repeatedly expressed his excitement simply to be back in the locker room with his teammates, who opened the season with a 46-9 rout of Indianapolis while their best player wasn’t at the Coliseum.
“Anytime you’re around your guys again, they’re going to pick me up,” Donald said. “We would like for things to get done (with the contract), but I’m going to let my guys handle that side of things, and I’m going to handle the football side of things.”
Donald widely is considered one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the NFL, destroying offensive lines in both the running game and as a pass rusher. Donald believes he picked up “pretty much everything” he needs to know about defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ new 3-4 scheme during his brief time in the offseason program before he began his holdout in May.
“I don’t feel like I’m behind or anything, as far as knowing the plays,” he said. “I might mess up here and there, but when I was out there today, I felt pretty solid. I know all the checks and everything that was going on.”
McVay said Donald looked “exactly like you would expect — looked fast, looked fresh, looked like the player that you’ve seen. It didn’t look like he missed a beat, and it was good to have him back out there. He’s all smiles because he loves football, so nothing but positive things there.”
Donald participated in practice as if he’ll play extensively Sunday, although the Rams haven’t decided how many snaps he will get. He endured a bit of good-natured ribbing after practice from his teammates, who uniformly supported Donald’s right to stay away while negotiating this summer.
“It’s nice seeing him across the line of scrimmage again, making practice hard for us again,” quarterback Jared Goff said with a laugh after the no-pads practice. “Especially when we have pads on, it’s not fun. But that’s me speaking. You should ask the O-line. I’m glad he’s on our team, I’ll just say that.”
NOTES: CB Kayvon Webster and S Maurice Alexander didn’t practice while recovering from shoulder injuries. Their availability for Sunday is uncertain. … LB Connor Barwin and LT Andrew Whitworth rested. Whitworth is receiving praise from his teammates and coaches after a standout performance in the Rams’ season opener. Los Angeles signed Whitworth as a free agent for a dramatic upgrade at a long-troublesome position for the team.