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Aaron Donald is Darth Vader with freaky-fast feet. We can show you

Matthew Shipley

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Aaron Donald is humble. He's quiet. He doesn't self-promote his out-of-this-world physical feats.

But sometimes that's out of his control.

Donald's freakish athleticism can make even a mundane preseason practice something to marvel at. During a routine speed drill, he pumps his knees and taps his toes quick as lightning as he moves laterally over four bags.

Even to Los Angeles Rams teammates who see the 6-foot-1, 280-pound NFL Defensive Player of the Year every day, the speed of Donald's feet is astonishing when they review video of him.

"They sped them s---s up!" linebacker Cory Littleton said, referring to Donald's feet. "They put them on fast-forward."

"It's sped up," defensive end Michael Brockers said. "His feet are not moving that fast."

Except, they are. No digital enhancements needed.

The video of Donald's fast-moving feet, which he calls "nothing special," has more than a million views on social media. Friends, family members and even complete strangers have asked Rams players and coaches via text messages and social media whether the video was real or digitally altered.

"Everybody across the country, college coaches, even people I don't know," defensive line coach Eric Henderson said, "will reach out in regards to try to get a better understanding."

But it really just comes down to one thing.

"He's a freak," running back Todd Gurley II said.

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Ninkovich: Donald is a beast

Damien Woody and Rob Ninkovich agree that Aaron Donald is the most disruptive player in the interior in the NFL.

When the Rams host the Baltimore Ravens (8-2) at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum for Monday Night Football, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson will become acquainted with that freakishness when Donald's fast feet patter toward him, with the Rams (6-4) clinging to playoff hopes a season after appearing in Super Bowl LIII.

"Aaron Donald, name speaks for itself," Jackson said. "No. 1 D-tackle in the league last year. We gotta deal with him."

Outside of his flashy Gucci shorts and huge diamond-encrusted necklace -- you'd hardly guess Donald was the Rams' $135 million phenom, a player who was voted the NFL's most spectacular talent by his peers before the season.

Donald's own social media feeds are relatively tame, outside of a few shirtless photos that make you wonder whether a man his size could possibly feature a six-pack, or whether perhaps he's wearing one of those ab T-shirt cover-ups you might find at Venice Beach.

But his fast feet aren't his only viral video.

He wasn't the one to post about his insane knife workout with his trainer that circulated before last season and caused concern that Donald was possibly putting himself in harm's way. It turned out, of course, those knives weren't real.

"It doesn't ever hurt to try different stuff," Donald said.

Donald, 28, grows a childish grin when compliments are delivered, or when teammates -- especially his defensive line counterparts -- decide to give him grief, which they do often in good fun, knowing they're witnessing a generational player, a future Hall of Famer.

"Man, it's not that impressive," Brockers said about Donald's feats, as overhearing teammates began to laugh.

Donald's upper body has the power to move one, two and sometimes even three blockers from his path.

"I usually look at him and say, 'Wow,'" defensive coordinator Wade Phillips deadpanned.

He has the best pass rush win rate as a defensive tackle (28.4%) in the NFL, despite being double-teamed at the highest rate in the league (67.9%) among tackles who have played in at least 10 games, according to ESPN metrics powered by NFL Next Gen Stats.

Donald's lower body features the quickness and agility to sometimes make all those blockers miss him altogether.

"He got DB feet as a defensive lineman," cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman said. "He got a motor, like real motor feet. His upper body is a D-lineman, and his lower body is like a safety."

"He's quick, his feet super quick. Comparing himself to me, I don't think he got me yet," cornerback Jalen Ramsey said, smiling. "But he got super-quick feet."

Donald's secret?

Hard work, of course, along with trimming some extra weight he entered the NFL with -- he was listed at 285 pounds when the Rams selected him with the No. 13 pick in 2014.

And there's also Dewayne Brown, Donald's trainer in his hometown of Pittsburgh, whom he has worked with since high school.

"I've just been training with that guy and working a lot of footwork, training like a DB over the past years," Donald said. "Just help me work on my feet, the speed of my feet, athleticism."

Brown's philosophy is to work out athletes like they're ... athletes. In other words, Brown doesn't take it easy on Donald just because he's a big guy. There's no time to catch your breath, and Brown doesn't cater any of his drills to accommodate for Donald's position.

"He used to think that I was nuts because of the tempo I train at," Brown said. "I train at a pace."

The workouts take place three days a week and last only 45 minutes. It's a dynamic warm-up, followed by running form, linear and lateral movements, core work and explosive training. Sometimes it features flipping tires and, of course, hand-fighting with fake knives.

"I'm just training guys to be athletic -- it's not real sport-specific," Brown said. "It's the repetition, bang, bang, bang, and Aaron goes 150 to 200 percent every time he does a drill."

Donald also goes 150 to 200 percent every day at practice, and most certainly in every game.

"It's the talent, but then it's using that talent and working as hard as you possibly can to maximize that talent," Rams coach Sean McVay said. "There is never complacency that sets in."

Donald has eight sacks this season, including a takedown of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph that resulted in a safety. He's not keeping the same pace as last season, when he set an NFL record for an interior lineman with 20.5 sacks -- two sacks shy of tying the NFL's single-season sack record. Instead, he ranks 11th in the NFL, which is surprising, given how dominant he played a season ago. But it shouldn't be shocking. Most opponents make it a priority to keep Donald from wrecking their offense.

"To be able to see somebody play the game the way he plays it on every snap -- it doesn't matter run, pass, down-and-distance, where he's at on the field," said Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy, who faced Donald in Week 11. "If you don't know where he is on the field on every single play, you're going to be in trouble."

Attention spent on Donald has enabled teammates to combine for 21 sacks.

"As long as somebody is making sacks, I'm happy," Donald said. "If somebody wasn't, I'd be frustrated."

However, Donald has committed himself to finding new ways to beat blocks -- whether it's a double- or triple-team -- with the hope of getting to the quarterback.

"He's an animal," quarterback Jared Goff said. "He's a freak of nature, and we see it every day."

"It's like, dude, take a couple days off real quick, man," Robey-Coleman said.

Donald's latest viral move, when he Darth Vader-lifted Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman into the air, had teammates in stitches and produced laugh-out-loud memes.

"I've seen it everywhere," Donald said, shaking his head and chuckling.

"We kind of reenacted what we thought was going on in that foul," said Robert Woods. "Just big Aaron Donald and Devonta Freeman."

Freeman, the Falcons' pint-sized running back, lacking for better judgment, latched on to Donald's face mask after a play was blown dead in Week 7.

Donald held Freeman away by his shoulder pads as his legs kicked through thin air inches off the ground.

"It was like he was riding a bicycle," outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. said about Freeman, holding back laughter.

Finally, Donald set the 5-8, 206-pound running back down. And just as he did, social media picked up the moment.

"You know," said Donald, grinning while attempting to downplay the situation, "I just wanted to get him off my face mask."