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Another award in tow, it’s back to business for Aaron Donald and evolving Rams

Screen grab of Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald with a photo of himself flexing as his background.
During a video conference with reporters, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald displayed a photo showing his body was ready for another dominating season.
(Gary Klein / Los Angeles Times)

The television probably will be on, but Aaron Donald does not plan to be parked in front of it watching every snap when the Kansas City Chiefs play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV on Sunday.

The Rams star defensive tackle, a three-time NFL defensive player of the year as of Saturday, is focused on next season, which will end with Super Bowl LVI being played at SoFi Stadium.

“That’s what you prepare for — to have the opportunity to be on that stage to be playing for a world championship,” Donald said Sunday during a videoconference call with reporters, “And that’s what we’re scratching and working to get, no matter where you’re playing at.

“But it’s that much better if we can accomplish that, do it back in L.A.”

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Donald, 29, joined Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor and Houston Texans’ lineman J.J. Watt as the only players to win the defensive player of the year award three times. Donald, who had 13½ sacks this season, also won in 2017 and 2018.

The Rams’ 2020 season ended with a 32-18 NFC divisional-round defeat to the Green Bay Packers. Donald was limited because of a rib injury suffered during a wild-card victory over the Seattle Seahawks. He had no sacks and was in tears on the sideline as the final seconds ticked down in Green Bay.

New Chargers coach Brandon Staley credits much of his success to the examples set by his father and mother, even as she eventually passed away from cancer.

“Having an injury, I felt like I wasn’t able to play at my best and do what I had to do — I was limited,” he said. “I kind of felt like I let my team down.

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“So, if anything, it just motivates you. Makes me have to work that much harder to try to find ways to keep myself healthy. So, come back to that stage I’m ready to be at my best.”

The Rams have undergone significant change since the end of the season.

Defensive coordinator Brandon Staley left to become coach of the Chargers and was replaced by Raheem Morris.

Inside linebackers coach Joe Barry left to join Staley, and then reportedly was hired this week to be the Packers’ defensive coordinator. Cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant left for a job with more responsibility with the Detroit Lions.

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And the Rams made a blockbuster trade, sending quarterback Jared Goff, a 2021 third-round draft pick and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 to the Lions for quarterback Matt Stafford.

Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald sacks Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald has sacked the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson more than any other quarterback in the NFL.
(Stephen Brashear / Associated Press)

Under NFL rules, teams cannot comment publicly about trades until the new league year begins March 17. But speaking generally, Donald said the NFL was business.

“Am I surprised at times? Yeah,” he said. “But you never know what can happen in this business.”

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Donald played against Stafford three times and has sacked him six times.

“He’s a tough guy,” Donald said. “He stayed poised no matter — through ups and downs. ... A lot of quarterbacks make mistakes and they shut down and consistently make mistakes. He’s a guy that if something negative happens, he don’t let that affect him for the rest of the game. He comes back still playing at a high level. It was always fun to play against him.”

Donald said he was looking forward to working with Morris and other new coaches who will be added to the staff.

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald was named the NFL’s top defensive player for the third time in his career Saturday at NFL Honors.

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“I’m pretty sure he’s going to bring his own little twist to the defense,” Donald said. “I’m excited, and I hear nothing but great things about him, so I’m definitely pumped up.”

Donald said he was happy to be recognized again as the defensive player of the year, but he is not motivated by individual success.

“That’s not what I’m chasing,” he said. “I got one ultimate goal, and that’s to be holding the [Super Bowl] trophy at the end of the year,” he said. “I’m just playing at a high level and I will continue to play at a high level till I accomplish that.”


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