Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the kind of self-motivated player coaches must love.
This is a man coming off earning his second-consecutive AP Defensive Player of the Year award, having recorded a single-season franchise record 20.5 sacks in 2018. He also signed a lucrative six-year contract extension last August, keeping him with Los Angeles through the 2024 season.
But none of that has appeared to diminish Donald’s motivation, as he enters the sixth year of his already storied career.
He’s been participating in OTAs for the first time since 2016 — back before he remained absent from two straight offseason programs as his representation and the organization negotiated the extension. And he’s enjoying being at the facility every day this time of year, saying he thinks it’s important.
“I think you need to be here with the guys, and just build that relationship — just learning each other, being around each other, pushing each other,” Donald said on Tuesday. “So this is a big party that I definitely did miss, and [I’m] happy I’m here now working with these guys.”
“[J]ust having him here in this building, and what a breath of fresh air it is just to see how he constantly works,” head coach Sean McVay said. “When you’ve got a guy that’s the reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year and is motivated to get better and better, never lets the complacency set in, it’s just really easy just to say, ‘That’s what it looks like.’ And he’s kind of the epitome of what it looks like right now, and we’re certainly glad to have him around.”
Because there’s no opponent, this is a time of self-improvement — one of Donald’s specialties. After fellow D-lineman Michael Brockers noted this last week, Donald said himself that he’s been encouraging his position mates to get in extra workouts throughout the offseason program.
More than that, though, Donald has enjoyed the tutelage he’s received from new defensive line coach Eric Henderson — better known around the facility as “coach Henny.” And that’s because, just as Donald often says, Henderson feels like there’s a lot Donald can improve upon as a player.
“I’ve been loving coach 'Henny,' that’s one of the main parts why I want to be here — to work with the guys, and also work with him,” Donald said. "He’s working a lot of different drills that I feel like can help me get better, improve my game. He’s pushing me. Like I said, he broke down stuff on me, showed me things that I need to correct in my game.
“So having him here, having him coach me with the different drills we’re out there doing, things that I needed to work on, that I needed to improve — I’m just excited to keep working with him.”
It almost seems odd to hear Donald say there’s really that much he can improve after the season he just had. But if there’s anyone who can keep that motivation to not just stay great, but be better in 2019 — it’s A.D.
Check out photos of week two of the Los Angeles Rams during OTAs.