Originally Published: September 13, 2018 6:49 p.m.
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Aaron Donald is his own worst critic. Nothing is going to change that, not even a contract extension that briefly made the Los Angeles Rams’ All-Pro lineman the highest-paid defender in NFL history.
Donald was not pleased with his performance in the Rams’ opener, recording one tackle in the 33-13 victory at Oakland on Monday night. With a few days to reflect on his first game since agreeing to a six-year, $135-million deal, he stood by that initial assessment, but acknowledged it was an much a motivational ploy as a genuine assessment.
“That’s just about trying to push myself and get myself better, you know,” Donald said Thursday. “Still got to get better each day. I just got to keep working.”
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips understood Donald’s thinking, but felt the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year was mostly effective in getting past the Raiders offensive line, even if it did not always result in him pressuring quarterback Derek Carr. Donald did sack Carr in the first quarter, but it was negated by a roughing the passer penalty for a low tackle.
What kept Donald from getting more hurries and hits on Carr, Phillips said, was a game plan designed to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly. The reluctance of opposing offenses to employ a vertical passing offense against a defensive line of Donald, Michael Brockers and free-agent signing Ndamukong Suh and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters might be among the few obstacles to keep Donald from recording at least eight sacks for the fifth consecutive season.
“The guy got rid of the ball, the quarterback got rid of the ball. But I thought Aaron was past whoever he was rushing against a lot of the time, and that’s what you look at,” Phillips said.
“He made a lot of disruptions, but he’s the type of guy who wants to make that bigger impact on the game and want to get them sacks and tackle for losses and just ultimately dominate the game,” Brockers said.
Everything else about Donald’s performance against Oakland following his second consecutive lengthy offseason holdout looked solid.
Having tailored his workouts based on his 2017 experience, when he reported to the team one day before the season opener after missing all of training camp, Donald played in 89 percent of the defensive snaps against Oakland to lead all Rams linemen.
Donald would not get into the specifics of how he changed his regiment, joking asking, “Are you trying to learn what I’m doing? I don’t want everybody knowing my training. But I worked hard this offseason. I did a lot of different things.”
Along with his endurance, Donald displayed a rapport with Suh as the game went on.
However, it was Brockers who had the Rams’ only sack, leading to Donald having some fun by joining a group of reporters and asking, “How did you enjoy your sack, sir?”
“That was glorious,” Brockers playfully responded.
What would be even more marvelous for Rams fans is seeing Suh, Brockers and Donald impose their will on quarterbacks, starting with Arizona’s Sam Bradford on Sunday. Donald is adamant the trio’s ability to take over games will manifest sooner than later.
“We such a solid group and we got so many big-time playmakers, you know, at times we got to take over games,” Donald said. “And we got to keep getting better as players, as a unit, and we’ll gel a lot better, too, the more we play.”
LB Mark Barron (ankle) did not practice for the second straight day. Barron has been dealing with a Achilles tendon injury since last season, and Phillips said it could linger throughout this season. “There’s going to be a point when he can (play) I hope, and we hope it’s this week,” Phillips said.