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Aaron Donald admits 2023 will 'be different' but is ready to lead Rams back to prominence

Aaron Donald's 2022 was anything but dreamlike.

Less than a year after finally securing the ring he so coveted, Donald's season ended prematurely due to an ankle injury, the first legitimate health issue he's faced in his career. He's since undergone surgery and told reporters on Wednesday that he's back to 100 percent now.

His road back to the field, then, should be shorter. However, a longer one awaits both he and the rebuilding Rams.

"It's going to be different -- you just said a bunch of different playmaker's names," Donald said when asked about the departures of former teammates Jalen Ramsey, Bobby Wagner and Leonard Floyd. "Obviously, you wish you could play with them my whole career, but it's not like that. It's different, but again, the young guys are going to have to step up. That's me as a leader to get those guys ready and them as professionals to get themselves ready as well. Just got to trust them. A lot of them guys played a lot of football last year, but again, I wasn't on the field to get to play with them."

The mighty Rams fell from Super Bowl champs to afterthought in 2022, and management recognized their all-in strategy had caused them to blow a tire. Now, they're focused less on speeding toward the finish line and more on ensuring the basic framework of the franchise is in better shape for the long haul.

It would be fair to wonder why Donald doesn't just call it a career instead of signing up for what is expected to be a difficult 2023 season for the Rams.

Donald flirted with retirement following the Rams' 2021 Super Bowl-winning season, and eventually leveraged his possible departure into a new, lucrative deal. This time around, though, Donald wasn't giving retirement any thought.

"Not really, honestly," Donald said. "You never want to end your career the way how it was last year so it never really crossed my mind. Just trying to do everything I can to get myself healthy to be here today."

When healthy, Donald is the best of the best, the upper crust of the NFL's elite tier. He's guaranteed to receive a place in Canton via first-ballot election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame following his career.

That type of resume commands respect. It also places responsibility on the shoulders of Donald to lead by example. As Donald explained Wednesday, all he needs are teammates ready and willing to work.

"As long as they got the mindset to work and they got the right mindset to do what they need to do at a high level and want to put that work in, me personally, as a football player, as a competitor, I can work with that," Donald said. "I want a bunch of guys that are hungry no matter if they've played no snaps or 10 snaps, as long as they got that mindset."

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