IRVINE, Calif. – This year is different for Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald.
The Rams are in the midst of a “remodel” as general manager Les Snead coined earlier this offseason. Jalen Ramsey is in South Beach, Leonard Floyd is in Buffalo and Bobby Wagner is reunited with the Seahawks. And as of Saturday, the Rams had 37 rookies on its roster.
“I’m not going to lie. It is really different … you kind of wish some of them were still here, but it’s just the nature of the business I guess, right? So they’re gone,” Donald said. “You miss those guys definitely when you had so much success with them and you’ve been working on them so long. But now obviously it’s a new chapter for the next young guys to come up and you’re trying to build that bond, that relationship with them. So come game time, you want that same feel, that same confidence when they are next to you that they’re going to do their job and they’re going to help do what we need to do to be successful as a team.”
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Donald has placed more of an emphasis on leadership with all the new faces.
“He’s always a leader, but he’s a leader by example,” Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris told USA TODAY Sports. “It happens easy for him. It’s nothing new for him. It’s what he does. He wants to be around his guys, show them the right way and to do the right things. He’s just doing more of that with the young guys, just tutoring and mentoring.”
The Rams had a steep fall from grace after winning Super Bowl 56. Donald only appeared in 11 games due to an ankle injury as the Rams (5-12) broke an ignominious NFL record for most losses by a defending Super Bowl champion.
The nightmare season has the 32-year-old Donald feeling rejuvenated entering his 10th campaign.
“I’ve got a lot to prove. I didn’t have the season I wanted, obviously coming off of an injury and things like that. I feel like to get to where you need to be, it’s like starting over from scratch again. It’s a brand new year. Last year was last year, but there’s a little fire lit into me,” Donald said. “I got a little motivation towards that to push me to feel like I’m back on ground one. So I’m trying to get back to where I want to be as a player, as a teammate, as a team overall, and that’s been kind of pushing me a little bit.”
Donald has accomplished practically everything as an interior defensive lineman. He’s a Super Bowl champion, three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, seven-time first-team All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowler. His résumé makes him a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. But on the heels of last year, he has some extra motivation.
“Right now we are just trying to get back on top,” Donald said. “We didn’t have a season we wanted as a team last year. Now you’re kind of looked over as a team, so I feel like we have got something to prove. So that’s the motivation right there.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Tyler Dragon on Twitter @TheTylerDragon.