Aaron Donald says Rams 'definitely lost some big pieces to the puzzle' this offseason
Donald watched as several pieces of the Rams' 2018 NFC title team left town
Aaron Donald and the Rams were playing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy 15 months ago. While Donald is still in Los Angeles, many of his teammates from the Rams' 2018 NFC championship team are no longer on the team's roster.
Donald, a team captain and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, recently acknowledged the amount of turnover that's unfolded within the Rams' roster over the past several months. The Rams, , made several changes to their roster (as well as within coaching staff) after they failed to make the playoffs in 2019.
"We definitely lost some big pieces to the puzzle," Donald said, via Kevin Modesti of the Los Angeles Daily News. "I think guys just need to step up and fill some big shoes."
The first domino to fall was safety Eric Weddle, who in February. The Rams then released former All-Pro running back Todd Gurley, who signed a one-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons. The Rams also released outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who is still on the open market. Linebacker Cory Littleton signed with the Raiders in free agency. Fellow linebacker Dante Fowler has reunited with Gurley in Atlanta. Cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman signed with the Eagles as a free agent. Before the draft, Los Angeles Brandin Cooks to the Texans for a second-round pick.
Los Angeles also shook up its coaching staff. The Rams replaced longtime defensive coordinator Wade Philips with Brandon Staley, who spent the 2019 season as the Broncos' outside linebackers coach. They also hired Kevin O'Connell, who spent the past three seasons with the Redskins, to be the their new offensive coordinator. Los Angeles hired veteran NFL assistant coach John Bonamego to be their new special teams coach.
To make up for their offseason departures, the Rams were able to sign defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson and linebacker Leonard Floyd. Robinson made 37 starts during his four seasons with the Lions, while Floyd, the ninth-overall pick in the 2016 draft, was a four-year starter for the Chicago Bears.
They also re-signed defensive end Michael Brockers and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. To the delight of Donald, Brockers re-signed with the Rams after his reported deal with the Baltimore Ravens fell through.
"I know Aaron finally was talking to me again once we got Michael back," Rams head coach Sean McVay said last month. "He was a little upset with me, I think, for a couple days."
During the draft, the Rams found Gurley's replacement when they selected former Florida State running back Cam Akers with the 52nd overall pick. They replaced Cooks with former Florida receiver Van Jefferson, who was selected five spots after Akers. The Rams gave quarterback Jared Goff another weapon when they selected former Purdue tight end Brycen Hopkins in the fourth round.
Los Angeles spent four picks addressing its linebacker and safety positions, selecting Alabama edge rusher Terrell Lewis and Utah safety Terrell Burgess in the third round. It picked up former Ohio State safety Jordan Fuller in the sixth round and former Baylor linebacker Clay Johnston in the seventh round. Among the goals of the Rams' defense in 2020, according to Staley, is to prevent opposing offenses from double-teaming Donald, who recorded 12.5 sacks and a league-best 20 tackles for loss last season.
While he is well on his way to receiving a Hall of Fame bust in Canton, Donald, who will celebrate his 29th birthday on Saturday, is not focused on accolades and individual achievement. Instead, he's focused on winning a Super Bowl championship, the one thing that eluded him during his first six NFL seasons. He's hoping that the Rams' new additions can help him accomplish that goal.
"Part of becoming a leader and being part of this team is that you're able to speak with these coaches and the people in the back rooms, and state your opinion," Donald said. "I'm here because I want to win. It's not about individual goals or nothing like that. The goal is to be a world champion.
"The more players we can get in that can help us, the better we can be."
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