Aaron Donald looks to follow in the footsteps of Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt

FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2018, file photo, Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald hits Philadelp
Rams defensive end Aaron Donald hits Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles during a Dec. game.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

He won’t be attending the ceremony because the Rams are playing in the Super Bowl the next day.

But defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the favorite to repeat as the NFL’s defensive player of the year when awards are announced Saturday night during the NFL Honors show.

Donald won last year after recording 11 sacks in 14 games. This season, after signing a $135-million extension, he amassed 20½ sacks in 16 games, the most by an interior lineman in NFL history.

“Anytime you’re rewarded for the success you have, you’re going to be happy because you put the body of work in,” Donald said when asked what it would mean to him if he repeated as the winner. “A lot of hard work. A lot of training. A lot of things you do behind the scenes.


“And to see you get rewarded, you know, you’d be happy for that.”

Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor won back-to-back awards for defensive player of the year in 1981 and 1982. Houston Texans lineman J.J. Watt won in 2014 and 2015.

Develin’s journey

No player can reach a pinnacle like the NFL’s championship game without completing a journey that’s very real.


But the truth is, James Develin’s journey to Super Bowl LIII began with a lie.

In 2010, Develin’s agent arranged an audition for his client with the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League.

“He told me, ‘Hey, you’re going to try out as a fullback. Don’t tell them you’ve never played it before,’ ” Develin recalled. “So I went down there and we kind of tricked them.”

Nine years later, Develin is finishing up his sixth season with New England, hoping to win a third Super Bowl.

The path has been an interesting one for this former Ivy League defensive end who also played one game in the Arena Football League — with a team called the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz, no less — before arriving in the NFL.

“I loved football and was willing to do whatever it took to make it my livelihood,” Develin, 30, said. “I kept chugging away no matter how many doors were slammed in my face.”

He went undrafted in 2010, the NFL apparently not impressed by an undersized defensive lineman with a mechanical engineering degree from Brown.

After two years in football’s minor leagues and the NFL’s practice squads, Develin made his debut with New England late in the 2012 season. He has been a Patriot since.


“He’s just a great teammate,” wide receiver Julian Edelman said. “You never see James having a bad day. You appreciate that about him.”

Develin has been one of the key pieces in New England’s pounding running game in 2018, a running game the Patriots hope can soften the Rams defense Sunday.

At 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, he is an accomplished blocker capable of bench pressing nearly double his body weight. Edelman: “James can move a house.”

Develin, playing an old-school position in an era of new-school offense, made the 2017 Pro Bowl. In describing his playing style, he said, “I want to be the hammer, not the nail.” He also called himself “the bodyguard of sorts for the running backs.”

“He has as much respect as anyone in that locker room,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s a very team-oriented guy who always does what’s best for the team. That’s all you can ask for in a teammate.”

Versatile Rams

Offensively, the Rams have become known for not changing personnel a lot during games. They typically stick to their regulars and attempt to deceive through formations and motion.

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This seemingly simplistic approach, however, isn’t simple at all, which helps explain why only Kansas City scored more points than the Rams during the regular season.

“They actually switch things up a lot,” Belichick said. “They just do it with the same players. That’s what makes them so good. Everybody can do everything.”

Brady pregame

Every football fan is at least somewhat familiar with what quarterback Tom Brady has done in the Super Bowl. His five victories. His four MVP awards. His passing for 2,576 yards and 18 touchdowns, both NFL records.

But what a lot of people don’t know is how Brady likes to spend the final couple hours before the Super Bowl.

In comparison to what he has done after the opening kickoff, the time isn’t quite as exciting.

“I just try to de-stimulate as much as possible,” he explained. “I don’t put the TV on. Maybe some soft music, try to keep [the room] dark. Just try to rest and not get my heart rate up. That’s really it.”

Twitter @latimesklein

Twitter: @JeffMillerLAT

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