Aaron Donald isn’t just someone who has put together a string of dominance along the line of scrimmage for the Los Angeles Rams. He knows a fast-rising defender when he sees one.
And “A.D” has seen some fast risers with his eyes.
In an exclusive interview with Heavy on Rams made possible by his partnership with Dr. Teals, Donald revealed not one, but three Rams worth watching beginning on Thursday, September 8 when the Super Bowl 56 champions kick off the season versus the Buffalo Bills.
‘He Came Out of his Shell’
Donald first zeroed in on the man who will take on centers, guards and who he said “came out of his shell” and emerged as an important piece to the Rams’ defense during their Vince Lombardi Trophy run: Greg Gaines.
“You talk about a guy like Greg Gaines, obviously he came out of his shell last year. He ended up getting a starting a job and played at a high level,” Donald told Heavy.
Gaines had to take over for the injured Sebastian Joseph-Day, who went down with a pectoral injury after the win over the Detroit Lions and missed the rest of the regular season. The 6-foot-1, 312-pounder went on to produce career numbers across the board: 55 tackles, 28 solo stops, four stops behind the line of scrimmage and 4.5 sacks.
Donald went on to give his own version of scout’s take on what the former Washington Husky brings to the Rams.
“He’s stout in the run, he can pass rush, he can run down the quarterback, he’s quick and fast,” Donald said.
Donald, though, believes Gaines can ascend to a new title this season.
“You talk about a guy who’s got so much potential to dominate after the year he had last year, I just feel like he can be the best nose tackle in the National Football League because last year, he played at that type of level,” Donald said. “I believe in what I’ve seen in this camp from him the way he worked with me, he can be that type of player.”
Here’s one sample of the damage Gaines brings when aligned next to Donald: With the Baltimore Ravens funneling Donald to his right, Gaines is left with a solo blocker, the right guard and the more massive 6-foot-4, 339-pounder Kevin Zeitler. Gaines still gets enough of a push and tussles down the mobile Tyler Huntley.
And before Donald’s climatic final defensive play to end the Super Bowl, Gaines was responsible for setting up that fourth down by plugging this lane:
“A.D” had praise for two more Rams.
‘2 Guys Who Have Come Along’
The next two Donald identified were two preseason stars in the trenches: Jonah Williams and Michael Hoecht.
Donald says both young defenders, like Gaines, have made their own strides as he’s witnessed.
“Then you have a guy like Jonah and Mike — two guys who have come along and have gotten better from where they were to where they’re at now,” Donald said.
What has Donald himself seen out of the 6-foot-5, 275-pounder from Weber State?
“Jonah is pass rushing a lot better and stout versus the run. He’s playing a lot more physical,” Donald said.
Williams even turned heads, literally, with this spin move executed during the preseason:
As for the 6-foot-4, 311-pound Hoecht out of Brown University, Donald pointed out how he’s beginning to trust his play even more.
“Then you talk about a guy like Mike who’s got a lot of pass rushing ability and for him, it’s more about trusting himself. And you can see him doing that,” Donald said. “These are two guys who got a lot better, had great camps and got a lot of potential. They’re young guys, but three guys who have a lot of ability to do great things in this league.”
Hoecht shows that quarterback attacking skill Donald described on this play during the Rams’ final preseason game:
Again, Donald’s interview was through his endorsement deal with Dr. Teals, which specializes in helping athletes like Donald recover and heal from aches and pains after workouts and games. Donald has been with the company since 2019.