We already knew the answer, but Los Angeles Rams all-everything defensive tackle Aaron Donald wanted to reassure reporters on a video call Thursday that he was in shape by posting a recent picture of himself shirtless in a major flex as his background. Never mind that he was seated in front of the Herculean background in a t-shirt that showed off his jacked physique.
"I'm working out in the dungeon, my dad's basement," Donald said from his hometown of Pittsburgh.
Donald typically trains at the University of Pittsburgh but facilities are closed because of COVID-19 pandemic. He was part of a major accomplishment at Pitt this spring, earning his Bachelor's degree in communications after years of online courses.
"It was a promise I made to my mom and dad," said Donald, who was drafted by the Rams in 2014 after four seasons at Pittsburgh. "My older brother got it. My older sister got it. It took a while, but I accomplished that."
Next week Donald, who turns 29 this weekend, said he's going to start twice-a-day training. Lifting every other day, doing speed and field training with his private coach and bringing in Al "Poodie" Carson, another private coach who last year appeared in a hand-drill video with Donald, in which Donald evaded and deflected phony knives.
Everything is pretty much how it has been with Donald in the offseason.
In 2017 and 2018, he didn't attend Rams offseason workouts because of contract issues and he still dominated when games began. It's why he really doesn't foresee much of an issue this season. In fact, back then he didn't do the classroom work he is doing virtually now, as players around the league are being taught remotely because of the pandemic.
"I still have to get on grass and be ready as far as technique and things like that, but I'll be ready, we'll be ready to play," Donald said.
Players are beyond eager to get back on the field and to be around each other, according to Donald. He echoes multiple players from around the league in that regard. Oddly, for years players have said that voluntary workouts in the offseason are sometimes too much. Now that there aren't any, there is a widespread angst about returning.
Donald said new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who is taking over for Wade Phillips, appears to be putting in a scheme that should be favorable to more than him. Staley said that he is trying to design ways for Donald to see fewer double teams, but unless he can convince opposing offenses to take more tackles for losses and quarterback sacks, that could be optimistic.
The new schemes looks good on paper, but Donald said nobody knows how anything will work until they return.
As for football coming back, Donald candidly said he would like to see it come back the way it always has been played - with fans in the stands at games. With health concerns about the spread of COVID-19, games without fans has been discussed by NFL officials and team owners. Other sports leagues around the world are playing games without fans as of now.
"I feel like, you need fans to play," Donald said. "I don't see how you can play games with no fans. It takes all the excitement and fun out the game. You make a big play and the fans will pick you up. Fans give you that extra juice when you're tired and fatigued. You don't have the fans it takes the fun out of it. It wouldn't be fun to me. I don't think it would be fun to play a football game without fans."
There are not a lot of answers about the immediate future of the NFL. There also are uncertainties about the Rams' defense, which has seen the departures of multiple players, including starting linebackers Donte Fowler, Corey Littleton and Clay Matthews as well as safety Eric Weddle and nickel back Nickell Robey-Coleman.
Defensive tackle Michael Brockers, Donald's sidekick for six seasons, signed a free-agent deal with the Ravens at the outset of free agency. A failed physical blew up the signing and Brockers is re-signed with Los Angeles, a huge relief for Donald, who admitted he was not happy about the Rams letting Brockers initially walk.
"I was sick about that," Donald said. "Brockers is a huge part or the defensive line. Everybody always looks at the sack numbers but from a run stop production, he's been there. One of the tops in the National Football League for the last couple of years. After they brought him back I was excited for him."
Donald being more vocally assertive is a part of him becoming more of a leader, he said. Donald is not outspoken or gregarious. He is all about handling business. That business now includes letting people know - maybe not publicly - how he feels.
"You speak your mind when you become a leader," Donald said. "I'm here because I want to win. This isn't about individual goals. The ultimate goal is to be a world champion. I haven't done that yet."