For better or worse, Aaron Donald was committed towards playing for the Rams in 2023. Despite an overhaul of the defensive roster and previous thoughts of retirement, Donald never thought of doing anything other than spending his 10th season for the team with which he has carved out a Hall of Fame worthy career.
Donald, who considered walking away from football after winning Super Bowl LVI, said his and the Rams' tumultuous title defense erased any thoughts of retiring. The 2022 Rams sputtered to a 5-12 record due in large part to a barrage of injuries that included Donald missing six games with an ankle injury that required surgery.
"You never want to end your career the way it was last year," Donald said. "It never really crossed my mind. Just trying to do everything I can to get myself healthy to be here today."
Despite the injury, Donald was named to his ninth consecutive Pro Bowl last season. He said he is 100% physically and ready to take on the challenge of playing on a re-vamped defense that lost Jalen Ramsey, Bobby Wagner and Leonard Floyd during the offseason.
"I made a commitment to this organization to do everything I can to do my part," Donald said. "Obviously it's different than what we've seen the past few years. A lot of young guys will have to step up and will have to be a huge part in us having success."
Donald is one of just three returning Rams defenders (Ernest Jones and Jordan Fuller being the other two) with previous starting experience at the NFL level. Among the Rams' new expected defensive starters is linebacker Byron Young, a second-round pick in April's draft who racked up seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss for the Volunteers last fall.
"As long as they've got the right mindset to work and do what they need to do at a high level and are willing to put the work in, me personally as a football player, as a competitor, I can work with that," said Donald, who added that he won't feel any extra pressure to make plays due to the lack of experience alongside him.
"I'm just going to play ball," he added. "I've been playing since I was 5, 6 years old. I'm going to try to do everything I can to continue to play at a high level. Again, you've just got to trust that the guys next to you are going to get their job done."
Donald has had to shoulder the weight of the Rams defense (well, the Rams team if we're being specific) before. He toiled on some pretty bad teams from 2014-16 before Sean McVay came in and helped turn the franchise around. The Rams then made the playoffs four times over the next five years that included winning the franchise's first title as a Los Angeles-based team at the end of the 2021 season.
As much as he had learned during his previous eight NFL seasons, Donald said last year's rocky season reinforced something that will be vital to the Rams' success in 2023.
"We need everybody," he said. "From the third team to the fourth-team player, everybody needs to be ready to play."