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Aaron Donald, Rams have 'something to prove' in 2023: 'It's a brand new year'

Thanks to a massively disappointing 2022 campaign and a quiet offseason, the Rams are flying completely under the radar in 2023.

It would be easy for a veteran like Aaron Donald -- a Super Bowl champion and future first-ballot Hall of Famer -- to collect his checks and go through the motions. He's 32, has two more years left on his current contract and has done enough to stake his claim as one of the best defensive linemen of all time.

Donald doesn't need to convince any remaining doubters of his worthiness -- if they exist at all. But that's not how the seven-time All-Pro sees it, not after the nightmare that was 2022.

"We all need some type of fire, something to push you, something to get you going, and that's something that I'm hanging on to right now," he said, via ESPN. "And I feel like we've got something to prove as a team. I think I got something to prove as a player, and that's how we're going to take it."

Last year marked the first season in which Donald didn't garner enough votes to finish in the top five in AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting. It was also the first year in which he missed more than two games, seeing his campaign end after 11 games due to a high ankle sprain the Rams weren't willing to push in a lost season.

The combination of Donald's injury and the Rams' failures have sent the Super Bowl LVI champions into the shadows remarkably quickly. It would be safe to operate there in 2023, too, but that approach doesn't fit Donald's standard of excellence.

"I've got a lot to prove," he said. "I didn't have the season I wanted, obviously coming off of an injury and things like that. I feel like to get to where you need to be, it's like starting over from scratch again. It's a brand new year. Last year was last year, but there's a little fire lit into me."

Though he says he has a lot to prove, Donald truly doesn't. At this point, he's only stacking more accolades onto a legendary career résumé.

But he does have a job to complete: Return the Rams to contention.

It won't happen overnight. The Rams probably won't stun the football world by making a championship run in 2023 after retooling for the future in the offseason. But Donald can help pivot them toward the right direction -- and feel good about his own contributions one season after he clearly didn't do enough in his eyes.

It might also be the best way to leave the Rams. Donald flirted with retirement after winning Super Bowl LVI, and at 32 years old, he has the freedom to call it quits whenever he wants.

Of course, if he plays as he intends, retirement will be a tough sell to the public any time soon.

"I'm just here today and just focused on what I got to do today," Donald said. "I'm not really worried about what's next right now. I'm just in this camp moment trying to get myself going."

Getting going is the first step toward getting the Rams back on track. Whether Donald completes the task remains to be seen.

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