After reporting to the Rams on Saturday, defensive tackle Aaron Donald returned to practice on Wednesday. And if the week continues like today's session, head coach Sean McVay expects Donald not only to play, but also to start on Sunday against Washington.
"[Donald] 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," McVay said. "Great demeanor, guys were excited to have him back. He's all smiles because he loves football, so nothing but positive things there. I was happy, too.
"He's going to be a starter for us and so that's how we'll go with it this week," McVay added.
Speaking to the media at a press conference for the first time since April, Donald said he did his best to stay in shape working out where he played his college ball, Pitt. And while the Rams and Donald's representation have not worked out a contract extension as of yet, Donald said his sole focus at this point is on the game.
"I love football, so being away from it definitely was tough," Donald said. "But like I said it was a decision I made to do, but the way I chose to handle it is the way I chose to handle it and I'm here now."
According to the defensive tackle, Saturday was not necessarily a date he and his representation targeted for his arrival.
"It was just a decision that talking to my agents, talking to my family — it just happened how it happened," Donald said. "It wasn't something I chose. It wasn't a certain date they were shooting for — it just happened."
Now that he's returned, Donald said he felt "a lot of love" from his teammates.
"Happy to be back, happy for them to have me here," Donald said. "They understand the business side of things, but there were just glad I was back."
"Everything he went through, hopefully he's seeing that guys are still supporting him," outside linebacker Robert Quinn said. "Great to have him back out there to get ready to start playing football again."
"You see his explosiveness — he didn't lose any explosiveness from him not being here," Quinn added. "I think guys said from the first day he didn't show up, 'We know his work ethic, we know the type of person he is.' We knew he was going to come back in shape. So it's just great to see that he still stayed committed — that's a great sign. And, again, just great to have him back with the fellas and get on the field and have a little bit of fun."
On the field, Donald was apparently his usual disruptive self, continuing to be the type of player who's earned a reputation as a practice wrecker.
"It's nice seeing him across the line of scrimmage again, making practice hard for us again," quarterback Jared Goff joked. "But no, It's good to have him back and it's good to see him around the building again, for sure."
"It felt good — he made a lot of plays today. He was in the backfield — same old Aaron," defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. "You know he's going to make the plays. He's a special talent that nobody can actually prepare for. So there are going to be some special plays made by him on the field that you can count on. So I think that's what he brings."
Donald said he felt like he was in good shape, but admitted practice reps and he was doing to train aren't the same.
"I worked out a lot," Donald said. "I'm in great shape, but [there's] a difference from running around and then having to be the football field. So, just going day-by-day here and just seeing how I feel as the week goes on."
Because Donald was in the early stages of the Rams' offseason program, he had notes to study on the new defense. That's why he doesn't feel too far behind as far as getting to know how he fits in the scheme.
"I might mess up here and there, but when I was out there today I felt pretty solid," Donald said. "I know all the checks and everything that was going on."
So how much will Donald will play on Sunday? McVay said general manager Les Snead and his staff have done some research into how much usage players have gotten who are returning from similar situations.
"[Snead's] got a handful of guys that do a great job with the analytics where guys that have been on the holdout, that have come back, what are the amount of snaps that they've played? So, these are certainly things that we don't take lightly," McVay said. "We want to be very smart with Aaron in how we progress him back in, while being aware that each player has his own individual circumstance that dictates that response, whatever we decide to do.
"But," McVay continued, "these are things that we'll come to a decision with both the player and our organization on what's best for everybody involved."
Kristen Lago contributed reporting.