A lack of preseason snaps last season did not adversely affect Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald. He amassed 11 sacks and was voted NFL defensive player of the year.
That’s why Donald, who ended a holdout by signing a $135-million extension recently, is not worried that he missed another preseason going into Monday night’s opener against the Oakland Raiders.
“Nobody [on the Rams defense] really played in a preseason game this year — not just me,” he said, chuckling. “It was everybody.”
Donald was alluding to the seven-snap appearance the starting defense made in the third preseason game against the Houston Texans. That was the total workload for a remade unit that features new additions such as defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is not concerned.
“The smart thing to do is make sure we don’t get anybody hurt in a game that didn’t count for us,” he said.
The Rams emerged unscathed from the preseason, but they still might be dealing with an injury issue against the Raiders.
Mark Barron, the most experienced member of an unproven linebacker corps, was listed as doubtful late last week because of an Achilles issue. Barron had shoulder and Achilles surgeries during the offseason. He did not participate in team drills throughout training camp or the preseason but had expressed optimism that he would be ready for the season.
If he cannot play, Ramik Wilson will start in his place.
Despite the question mark at linebacker, the Rams are stocked with players that could make theirs a potentially elite defense.
Donald, Suh and defensive lineman Michael Brockers all were first-round draft picks. Peters and Talib, with a combined seven Pro Bowl selections between them, are part of a secondary that includes slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman and safeties Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson.
But seven preseason snaps is a small sample size to make any judgments.
“Until you get into those [regular-season] games,” coach Sean McVay said, “it’s always tough to say.”
McVay, Phillips and players on defense have said that practicing against a Rams offense that features quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley and receivers Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp has prepared them for the opener.
But Suh said practice speed differs from game speed.
“There’s always an uptick, especially when you go into a big game on a Monday night,” he said, “so we’ll really find out on Monday where we’re at as a defense — things we’ve got to work on, things we’ve got to get better at, things that we’re good at, and really kind of go from there.”
Last season, Donald did not report until the eve of the season opener. He sat out the first game and then started the next 14 before McVay rested all starters in the season finale against the San Francisco 49ers.
This season, by signing on Aug. 31, the four-time Pro Bowl player had a week of practices to prepare for the opener and acclimate to playing in combination with Suh and Brockers.
“Like I always say, man, anytime you got playmakers around you it makes your job easier,” Donald said.
Adding Donald to the mix immediately raised the level of a defense, Peters said.
“We know we got an extra dog here,” Peters said. “He’s the defensive MVP of the league.
“Who ain’t going to be excited to have him back?”
McVay has said that Donald will not have any limitations on the number of snaps he plays against the Raiders.
Phillips is ready to turn him loose.