Aaron Donald is back on the practice field this week and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said on Thursday he can tell the unit has already gotten an emotional lift from the defensive tackle’s presence.
“I think the first thing Aaron brings is just him being back, everybody is excited about it,” Phillips said on Thursday. “Now, how much he can play and what a big difference it’ll make in the first ball game, I don’t know that. But, I think it just kind of energized our team and our players that he’s back playing football. He is a great player, but the mental part of it I think helped everybody.”
Phillips said it’s likely Donald will be on a type of “pitch count,” limiting his number of snaps in order to keep him fresh and healthy. Through two practices, however, Phillips noted he hasn’t detected many signs of fatigue from Donald on the practice field.
“It’s a number of plays and we’ll see how he is,” He looked to be in good shape. You know, football shape and shape are two different things because you’re carrying a lot more weight with pads on and so forth. But, he doesn’t seem to be bothered too much by the reps we’re giving him in practice. It’s not wearing him out, so we’ll make sure in the ball game that we watch him.”
Head coach Sean McVay echoed the same sentiment on Thursday afternoon.
“Aaron was good,” he said. “Being able to put the pads on, moving around — we had a good, physical practice today on both sides of the football and ’99’ looked good again today.”
Running back Todd Gurley joked Donald should be in good shape after reporting to the team last Saturday.
“He better have fresh legs,” Gurley said with a laugh. “He’s an incredible player. His quickness, his speed – you can’t coach or teach that. He’s just a dominate player and that’s just how he’s always been since he’s been in this league.”
Though Donald did not participate in much of the Rams’ offseason program and was not present for training camp, Phillips said he’s not concerned with the defensive tackle’s mastery of the new 3-4 scheme. And with a player of Donald’s caliber, Phillips joked there’s not much you need to tell him anyway.
“When he goes in there, we tell him, ‘Go.’ It’s not real complicated for him,” Phillips said with a chuckle. “No seriously, he knows the defense pretty well already. There’s a few things that he had to clean up, but a lot of his play is one-on-one, beat the guy in front of you.”