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Rams see silver linings as they wait for camp holdout Donald

August 14, 2018

FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2016, file photo, Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald tries to fire up the crowd during the team's NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. Donald’s teammates are finding silver linings to his absence while his second consecutive contract holdout with the Rams drags deep into training camp. Todd Gurley is grateful to be able to run plays in practice without the All-Pro defensive tackle bursting through the line and wrecking their work. Donald and the Rams are still talking about a long-term contract while the team prepares for a season of high expectations without him. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo, File)

IRVINE, Calif. (AP) — While Aaron Donald’s second consecutive contract holdout drags deep into training camp, Todd Gurley and the rest of the Los Angeles Rams’ offense have identified a silver lining to the persistent absence of the NFL’s defensive player of the year.

“We were talking about that last night,” Gurley said with a grin. “We were like, ‘Literally, if A.D. was here, he would (mess) up the whole practice.’ Because it’s like, you get the handoff and he’s right there. A guy like that, you have to sit him back and tell him to tone it down a little bit just so you can get some good reps.”

Although Donald’s menacing presence looms large in his teammates’ minds, he sometimes seems a distant figure to the Rams, who have completed their entire offseason program and all but the final few practices of training camp without their All-Pro defensive tackle. His teammates check Twitter and ask each other for news about the negotiations, but significant updates have been scarce.

Donald is holding out while seeking a contract that would make him one of the NFL’s highest-paid players regardless of position. The Rams and Donald’s representation have made almost no public pronouncements about the state of their negotiations, and coach Sean McVay dutifully provides daily updates about the talks despite having no new information almost every day.

Something appeared to move last week when general manager Les Snead said the sides were “in the same ZIP Code, area, ballpark,” and McVay expressed optimism about increased momentum.

But until a significant move happens, the Rams will wait: Ndamukong Suh will continue to practice without his new teammate alongside him, while Gurley and Jared Goff will continue to practice without the threat of Donald looming just across the line.

“We’ve talked about that for two offseasons now,” Goff said. “It’s not nice not having him here, (but) it’s nice being able to get off some good plays and not have to worry about him ruining the play, I think is a better way to put it. Yeah, we miss him and hope he comes back soon.”

The Rams have designs on Super Bowl contention after their breakthrough year under McVay, and they downplay the notion that Donald’s continued absence will hurt their plans in any significant way. Donald didn’t rejoin the Rams last season until the day before their opener, and he still had no problem fitting into new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ scheme once he returned to the field in Week 2.

With a full year of Phillips’ coaching behind him, Donald should know what to do from the moment he arrives. McVay also said the Rams aren’t worried about Donald being in top physical shape, since they know he is working out aggressively at home in Pittsburgh.

Yet the Rams obviously would prefer to build their defense around several weeks of work and film study with Donald. McVay acknowledged he speaks to Donald regularly, but the coach largely exchanges pleasantries and inquires about Donald’s family instead of asking about contract talks.

When Donald reports, McVay laughs at the notion it would disrupt anything about the defending NFC West champions’ preparations.

“That would be a disruption that would be more than welcomed right now,” said McVay, who had been disappointed with his club’s focus in practice earlier in the week.

The Rams have already showed their willingness to ink long-term contracts during this offseason when they signed Gurley and receiver Brandin Cooks to lengthy, lucrative deals.

Donald missed a reporting deadline last week that consigns him to restricted free agent status in the upcoming offseason, but neither side appears to be worried about it. The Rams have always said they would prefer a long-term deal with Donald, but they also have the option of using their franchise tag on him in 2019.

Until Donald and the Rams figure out a way forward, Gurley will continue to burst through the line at practice without worrying about Donald — and McVay will continue to answer questions about the negotiations in each of his daily media briefings.

“I don’t really know anything else,” the second-year coach said with a laugh.

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