Aaron Donald only participated in a walkthrough and some light conditioning drills as the Los Angeles Rams opened their three-day minicamp Tuesday.
But simply having the standout defensive tackle around was a good start.
Donald had skipped organized team activities last month as part of a stalemate over his contract, as he is entering the fourth season of his rookie deal.
The Rams picked up his fifth-year option in April, but Donald is in line for a massive extension that will almost certainly make him the highest-paid interior lineman. And he could sign one of the biggest contracts for a defender in league history after recording 28 sacks in his first three seasons.
Rams coach Sean McVay would not provide details as to the status of those discussions, and Donald was not made available to speak with reporters.
“He’s in a good place, been taking great care of himself, and he loves football,” McVay said. “I think we all want to come to a resolution, and we feel great about what Aaron has done for this organization and we’re optimistic about what’s to come.”
Still, the mere sight of the two-time first-team All-Pro was encouragement enough for McVay and Donald’s teammates.
“That’s always nice, having him around,” safety Maurice Alexander said. “I love the guy. We came in together.”
While the absences of Donald and, to a lesser extent, franchise-tagged cornerback Trumaine Johnson during organized team activities have received plenty of attention, Alexander knew both would be back when they had to be.
“Got to take care of their business, man,” Alexander said. “That’s in the air. Can’t do nothing about that.”
McVay was pleased with where Donald was at physically, though he was held out of positional work and team periods during the roughly 90-minute session as a precaution.
Instead, Donald ran some light sprints to start and then watched a defense missing some other key players.
Outside linebacker Robert Quinn had his right hand in a cast after undergoing what McVay called a “minor” surgical procedure. Quinn, who missed the last month of the 2016 season because of a concussion and the final eight games of 2015 with a back injury, will be back in time for training camp, the first-year coach said.
Linebacker Mark Barron and cornerback E.J. Gaines also did not practice, while Alexander will be limited to individual drills and walkthroughs this week because of a hip injury.
When Donald and the rest are back together, the Rams expect to field a good defense under new coordinator Wade Phillips. Despite the transition from a four-man front into a 3-4 alignment under the architect of the shutdown Denver defense that won Super Bowl 50, there are no concerns about how Donald will pick up the new scheme.
“He’s such a conscientious player that I think he’s one of the few players that you do feel good about his ability to get up to speed in a quick manner,” McVay said. “You would certainly love to have those guys here, but with Aaron, he’s a guy that is such a natural football player, the game comes simple to him.”
Outside linebacker Connor Barwin, who played for Phillips in Houston during the 2011-12 seasons, expects Donald to thrive for just that reason. Phillips’ version of the 3-4 creates confusion for the opposing offensive line, Barwin said, and Donald can exploit that uncertainty with his mix of explosiveness and intelligence.
“They never know which guy is coming. I think because he has so much football knowledge he’ll really understand that and be able to take advantage,” Barwin said.