Though defensive tackle Aaron Donald has not reported to the Rams as the club and his representation negotiate a contract extension, head coach Sean McVay said on Monday he has not ruled Donald out for Sunday's season opener agains the Colts.
"He is not ruled out, but right now he's not here. Guys are ready to go and we're getting a plan in place and the preparation goes on," McVay said. "Fortunately, we've got a bunch of guys that we feel confident in that are ready to step up. Like we said, our message continues to remain the same: If he's here, great, we'll accept him back with open arms. But in the meantime we've got to get ready to play a football game and we know the Colts are getting ready as well."
The Rams' players will have their weekly day off on Tuesday, meaning the club's next practice is on Wednesday. McVay said there is no hard deadline on when Donald must arrive in order to play in Sunday's game, adding that the Rams are continuing to work on getting him back in the building as soon as possible.
"Knowing that Sunday at 1 o'clock that ball is going to be kicked off and we've got to be ready to go, we'd love to have '99' be a part of it," McVay said. "But if not, I have a lot of confidence in the defensive line and our defense as a whole that they'll be ready to go and they'll have a great week of preparation."
Los Angeles has been without Donald for much of the lead up to the 2017 season. He participated in the Rams' voluntary minicamp in April, but did not participate in the club's voluntary OTAs. He reported for mandatory minicamp in June, but has not reported since the start of training camp in late July.
But now the regular season has arrived, and with it the sense of urgency has grown to resolve the contract situation. Team officials have continuously said Donald has earned a raise — dating back to general manager Les Snead saying so back at the NFL Combine in March. But with Indianapolis coming to town on Sunday, the Rams know they must be prepared to play without their star defensive tackle.
"I'm optimistic that we're going to continue to work to find a solution," McVay said. "That being said, if we're not able to, the game goes on Sunday at 1 o'clock. There's going to be a kickoff and it's going to be a great opportunity for us to come together as a team and see if we can come away with a W against a great opponent."
Los Angeles' players have done well to keep Donald's absence from becoming a distraction, and have seemingly continued to do so as this game week begins.
"We're focused on getting ready to play Indy," middle linebacker Alec Ogletree said. "Aaron has his situation and it will get handled when it gets handled. Our main focus has to be on Indy right now so that's what we're going to do this week."
"Wish he would've been here — one of the best in the league or the best," cornerback Trumaine Johnson said. "But it's next man up right now."
McVay said he feels players have a respect and understanding for Donald's situation as it relates to the business of football.
"They'd love to have him there, but in the meantime, I think they've done a great job of remaining focused on what they can control and that's what they're doing when they're in this building," McVay said. "We've had an opportunity to evaluate some guys [on the defensive line] that if Aaron was here, otherwise we wouldn't have had a chance to do. So I know those guys are excited. At the same time, if Aaron comes back, everybody will be ready to welcome him back with open arms."
"For sure, we definitely wish he was here playing with us," Ogletree said. "But there's a business side to this and we can't be mad at him for not being here, we just wish that he could be here and when he does get here, we'll be excited to have him back."