<
>

Aaron Donald believes holding out all summer helped keep him fresh

Aaron Donald will finish the regular season with 11 sacks, tying his career high. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald had a potential strip sack taken away from him on Sunday. It could've been his 12th, which would've been a career high. Donald came from behind to knock the ball loose from Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, but Mariota eventually recovered it himself and picked up three yards running with it.

It was ultimately ruled a running play, and now Donald's season will end with 11 sacks, tying his career high from 2014 while playing two fewer games in 2017. Donald is among several starters who will not play in Sunday's regular-season finale against the San Francisco 49ers, even though he tried his best to convince Rams coach Sean McVay to change his mind.

"I was just trying to tell him that I feel good, that I’m healthy," Donald said. "He wasn’t hearing it."

Donald won't have another chance to pad his stats, which may cost him a chance to win Defensive Player of the Year (the same can be said for Todd Gurley and the MVP). He is tied for ninth in the NFL in sacks, while Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell, a presumed favorite for the award, ranks second with 14.5.

But Donald leads the NFL with 91 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, and will probably finish as the leader there. The current runner-up, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, has 79. Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips believes Donald is "obviously the best defensive player in the league."

"He’s not superhuman," Phillips said, "but he’s almost unstoppable."

Donald has been playing his best football lately, with six sacks over his last five games. And apparently holding out throughout training camp and not reporting to the team until the day before the season opener has helped keep Donald fresh when the games matter most.

"For sure," he said. "I wasn’t getting the same aches and pains as they did during camp. I stayed in top shape, just came back, knocked the rust off, and I’m healthy."

Donald, whose rookie contract runs through 2018, still doesn't have the lucrative extension he initially sought. And a major reason for that could be that his side is waiting for Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack to set the market first. A holdout next summer is technically still possible for Donald.

Given how good he feels, could skipping training camp simply become part of his routine?

"Nah," Donald said, smiling. "But I feel good. I've felt good. I ain’t going to do it again. Well, I don’t know. I hope I don’t have to do it again."