Two games in five days.
It’s one of the most grueling gauntlets an NFL player can endure, and ever since the induction of Thursday Night Football, one that’s become all too common.
Now, imagine taking on that herculean task without participating in a single organized team activity all offseason. No team workouts. No practices. No training camp. Nothing. Sounds like a recipe for burning lungs and an embarrassing performance, right?
Well, not if you’re Aaron Donald. The Los Angeles Rams’ star defensive tackle didn’t participate in any organized team activities this summer due to a contract holdout. Despite not yet receiving a new deal, Donald returned to the team Sept. 9. On Sept. 17, he played 48 snaps against the Washington Redskins. Four days later, he played 68 snaps against the San Francisco 49ers (the most of any Rams lineman.)
Donald’s numbers from the two games aren’t overwhelming on paper—he totaled 5 tackles, a stuff and a sack. But defensive tackles like Donald can dominate a game without stuffing the stat sheet, and his current 87.0 grade from Pro Football Focus (seventh-best of any defensive interior player) proves he did exactly that.
It’s notoriously difficult to get in football shape without actually playing the sport. So, how did Donald do it? A new article from ESPN details how the 6-foot-1, 280-pound beast honed his conditioning to insane levels before rejoining the team.
His secret was a Pittsburgh-based trainer named DeWayne Brown. The owner of 2/10th’s Speed & Agility, Brown has been training Donald since he was a senior at Penn Hills High School. He knows what makes the All-Pro tick, and he knew how hard Donald would have to train to simulate the exhausting experience of an NFL game. From ESPN:
The workouts began with dynamic warm-ups and went straight to movement exercises with resistance belts. Then core work with medicine balls, explosions with resistance bands, footwork drills through 25-yard obstacle courses. Then sprints with either a parachute or a sled. Then flipping tires. Then frantically chasing tennis balls. Breaks didn’t last more than two minutes.
Here’s a taste of the brutal workouts Brown had Donald go through:
“It’s full throttle, pedal to the metal, hard as you can go,” Brown said of Donald’s training. “(Aaron), he does everything hard. That’s why, if you notice, he never gives up on a play. He’s got a high motor. His explosiveness, to other athletes—you don’t see too many linemen as explosive as him.” As soon as Donald would finish a grueling session with Brown, he’d immediately transition into practicing pass-rush moves despite being “dead tired.”
Donald knew it’d be difficult to simulate football conditioning without actually playing the sport, but he was shocked at just how prepared he was for game action. “I didn’t think I would be in as good of shape as I’m in as far as football-wise, being able to play so much. I feel like I can play 10 snaps straight without having to take myself out,” Donald said. “Conditioning-wise, I feel great.”
Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images