It’s been 10 months since Aaron Donald played a game for the Rams.
Last November against the Kansas City Chiefs, the seven-time All-Pro defensive lineman suffered a season-ending ankle injury that required surgery.
On Sunday, Donald finally will play again when the Rams open the season against the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field in Seattle.
“It’s been a while for me,” Donald said Thursday. “I’m excited. I got the jitters.”
It is Donald, a future Hall of Famer, who weekly causes anxiety for opposing quarterbacks, coaches and offensive coordinators.
The three-time NFL defensive player of the year has amassed 103 sacks since the Rams selected him with the 13th pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
But last season Donald had a career-low five sacks in 11 games.
Now, at 32, he is one of three star players remaining from the Super Bowl champion team of two years ago.
Donald, quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Cooper Kupp — all of whom received massive extensions or raises after the Super Bowl LVI victory — are the pillars of a team that was not refortified with star-caliber players because management traded, cut and declined to re-sign more than two dozen veterans.
For the first time in his career, Donald will begin the season without a veteran wingman such as Michael Brockers or A’Shawn Robinson.
Instead, the father of four is the leader of a young line that includes Bobby Brown III and rookie Kobie Turner, among others.
“He takes pride in now being that for the younger guys — and that’s what you love most about him,” defensive line coach Eric Henderson said. “What better guy than Aaron Donald that can model the way for these younger guys.”
Said defensive coordinator Raheem Morris: “It’s been great to be with him back out there on the grass, and to be able to get those young guys around him to see how he works, to be able to talk his same language, and to be able to play together, and play fast, and have fun, and be free.”
The young teammates grew up watching Donald. Now they are playing with him.
Turner, a third-round draft pick from Wake Forest, said he has learned from observing Donald.
“You see him go about everything on a day-to-day basis, like there’s no question why he’s great,” Turner said. “My Wake Forest coach, coach [Dave] Clawson said, ‘Successful people leave clues.’ And he’s certainly left a whole trail of clues as far as this is why he’s been successful.”
Donald is encouraged by how his younger teammates are developing.
“Seeing what I’ve been seeing at practice and where we’re at now, you get excited about it,” Donald said. “Obviously, you got to wait till Sunday to see how everything plays out, but I’m definitely excited for what we got and what we’ve got coming.”