LOS ANGELES--As the Los Angeles Rams prepare for the start of the second half of the season, one player is feeling particularly fit.
"I feel good," star defensive lineman Aaron Donald said Friday. "Healthy, fresh."
Donald sat out offseason workouts and training camp because of a still-unresolved contract dispute. He did not play in the first game, but he's back to his usual offense-wrecking self.
The three-time Pro Bowl selection is tied for the team lead with four sacks and has disrupted opponents throughout a three-game winning streak that pushed the Rams to the top of the NFC West.
Last week against the New York Giants, Donald sacked Eli Manning and stripped the ball for a fumble that led to a touchdown in a 51-17 victory.
Donald said that not participating in training camp enabled him to feel "fresher" at this point in the season than in any of his previous three.
"I ain't got the same aches and bruises anybody else has got," he said.
So absence from training camp worked to his advantage?
"Not taking the pounding on my body," he said. "I guess it was like a gift and curse, not coming."
Donald said he and the defense still have much to improve as the Rams make a push for their first playoff appearance since 2004. They play the Houston Texans on Sunday at the Coliseum.
Donald's contract status continues to loom. He is earning $1.8 million this season and is scheduled to earn about $6.9 million in 2018.
But Donald and his agents are believed to be seeking a new deal that would make him the highest paid defensive player in the NFL, and more.
Donald reiterated that his representatives were handling the situation.
"We going to see at the end of the year, or if something happens, something happens," he said. "If not, we'll see what happens after that."
The splash play against the Giants came on long touchdown pass from Jared Goff.
But receiver Sammy Watkins also continues to make his presence felt on the Rams' high-scoring offense with an overlooked part of his skill set: blocking.
Watkins, the fourth pick in the 2014 draft, blocked one defender and shielded teammate Robert Woods from another on Wood's 52-yard catch-and-run touchdown against the Giants. In the previous game against the Arizona Cardinals, Watkins made a key block on a third-down pass play to Todd Gurley, and also on a catch-and-run touchdown by receiver Cooper Kupp.
"It's just great to just go out there and show that, 'Hey man, I'm not just this guy that wants the ball 10 times a game. I'm not this first-round, whatever, fourth pick that just can run routes,'" Watkins said. "I can also block, knocks guys down. An all-around player."
Watkins, 24, was expected by some to ascend into the No. 1 receiver role after the Rams traded for him during training camp. But he is fourth on the team with 19 catches for 331 yards and three touchdowns.
"I know he certainly, like any other receiver, wants to get more touches," coach Sean McVay said, "but couldn't be more happy and pleased with where he's at and what he's done for our football team right now."
Watkins is optimistic that more passes will come his way.
"The more I can do, the more I can help this team, I'm pretty sure the ball will start finding me a little bit more," Watkins said. "The coach is watching. They're watching everything."
With backup running back Malcolm Brown sidelined because of a knee sprain, Lance Dunbar could make his debut against the Texans, McVay said.
Dunbar, who played his first five NFL seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, sat out offseason workouts, training camp and the first part of the season because of a knee issue. He had been on the physically unable to perform list but started practicing last week, starting a 21-day clock for the Rams to activate him, put him on injured reserve or release him.
"I just want to make a play and do whatever they need me to do," Dunbar said. "I'm excited to get back out there. You're always a little nervous. You want everything to go good.
"After that first hit, it's go time."
Linebacker Robert Quinn (illness) and tight end Derek Carrier (hamstring) are doubtful for Sunday's game, McVay said.
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