Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald put on an incredible performance this season, despite not participating in any organized team activities this past summer. Now with a full season under his belt, he’s ready to roll for the Super Bowl Sunday where he could be the difference in the game.
In the Patriots’ last two games, against the LA Chargers and then the Kansas City Chiefs, their offensive line gave up zero sacks. Together, those two teams only hit Tom Brady a total of three times. Breaking through that line and throwing Brady off his game could be crucial for the Rams. Aaron Donald may be their best hope of doing that.
The Patriots aren’t underestimating Donald. When a reporter asked Patriots coach Bill Belichick during a recent a conference call what he thought made Donald stand out, Belichick replied, “Everything,” noting that “He’s pretty much unblockable.”
The 49th annual NFL 101 Awards committee last Thursday named Donald the NFC Defensive Player of the Year. In five pro seasons, Donald has earned the award three times. Sports Illustrated also recently named Donald its Sports Performer of the Year. Donald has been selected for the Pro Bowl five times and as an All-Pro player four times.
Donald, who’s 6-foot-1 and 280 pounds, has performed well every season of his NFL career, but he continued to show improvements this year. This season, he led the NFL in sacks, recording 20.5 of them and setting a new single-season NFL record for an interior lineman as well as a new franchise record. He also recorded 183.5 sack yards, a career-high 25 tackles for a loss, 41 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles.
How Does He Do It?
How does Donald perform so well? Part of it may be his notoriously challenging workout routine. Even while not participating in team activities last offseason, he kept in shape with intense training sessions in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
Donald caused quite a stir during the last offseason when a video emerged of one of his training sessions with trainer DeWayne Brown of Two Tenths Speed and Agility. The video showed Donald dodging knives wielded by Brown. While the workout was real, the knives, it turned out, were not.
After Donald played 115 snaps in five days after being away from his team all offseason, ESPN published an article detailing the workout regimen he used to stay in shape for the season. Brown worked with Donald for three intense 45-minute training sessions each week. The workouts started with dynamic warmups and then moved into movement exercises using resistance belts. Donald then worked his core using medicine balls, practiced his explosiveness using resistance bands and completed 25-yard obstacle courses to work on his footwork. Donald then did sprints, pulling a sled stacked with weights or a parachute. The parachute provides resistance but takes stress off the body similarly to the effect of buoyancy when using an underwater treadmill. Then, Donald flips a 400-to-600-pound tire. Finally, he chases tennis balls and catches them before their second bounce. He does all of that without any breaks that last longer than two minutes.
Getting Ready for the Super Bowl
This Sunday, Donald will use what he’s learned in the Super Bowl. The Rams and Pats landed in Atlanta this past Sunday and will practice this week before the big game.
This will be the Patriot’s third straight trip to the Super Bowl and the ninth in the era of Brady and Billechick. The Patriots beat the Rams, who were then based in St. Louis, for their first Super Bowl win following the 2001 season. If the Patriots win, they’ll tie the Steelers for the most Super Bowl victories, a record of six. The Rams, meanwhile, are returning to the city where they won their only Super Bowl after the 1999 season.
The Patriots certainly aren’t counting out the Rams, especially since they have Donald on their defensive line. It remains to be seen what the Patriots will do to try and counter Donald’s attacks. Pats’ left guard Joe Thurnry will be largely responsible for facing off with Donald but will likely get help from center David Andrews and maybe even left tackle Trent Brown.
Belichick has indicated, though, that he might not put too much focus on double-blocking Donald. He noted that if you dedicate too much of your resources to blocking one player, others will be left open. If you take away Donald, another player in the Rams’ defensive could certainly step up. Either way, Donald is effective. Exactly how that dynamic plays out will have a big impact on how the game turns out.