Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) walks off the field with his teammates at the end of a minicamp practice in Thousand Oaks. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
His head was covered with a blue hoodie rather than a helmet, and his participation was limited to conditioning drills on the sideline.
But after staying away from voluntary organized team activities for three weeks because of his contract situation, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald returned to Thousand Oaks and was on the field Tuesday for the start of a mandatory three-day minicamp.
“There’s no more news in terms of the contract negotiations,” coach Sean McVay said, “but it’s great to have him here.”
Donald, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, wants a new deal befiting a player who has 28 sacks and is generally recognized as one of the most disruptive defensive forces in the NFL. Rams general manager Les Snead has said the team was negotiating with Donald’s representatives.
Donald participated in offseason workouts and a voluntary minicamp in April before taking leave for voluntary OTA practices.
The Rams did not make Donald available to reporters Tuesday, but part of his motivation for returning was almost certainly the $80,405 in fines he would incur for missing the entire minicamp.
McVay said Donald was in “great shape” and that he made a “seamless transition” during a walk-though. He was held out of drills to “be smart about the way we give him those reps,” McVay said.
Donald, however, is not expected to sign off on participating in full-speed team drills that might expose him to an injury that would impact negotiations.
Donald is scheduled to earn about $3.2 million in salary and bonuses this season. The Rams also have exercised a fifth-year option that would pay him about $6.9 million in 2018.
Like Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt in 2014, Donald wants a new contract going into his fourth NFL season. He is thought to be seeking a deal that would make him one of the league’s highest-paid defensive players.
Rams teammates said they were happy to see Donald again, even if he could not be fully involved.
“When he came back, I was like, ‘OK, so practice is going to be real. Let’s strap up,’” veteran guard Rodger Saffold said. “But it’s just nice to have him around.
“He’s a big part of the team. He’s built a lot of great relationships over the last few years.”
Said safety Maurice Alexander: “Always nice having him around.”
New Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is installing a 3-4 scheme but he is not expected to tinker much with Donald.
McVay said Donald could access film while he was away from the team the last few weeks. Donald’s conscientiousness, McVay said, eased the coach’s mind about his absence.
“He’s one of the few players that you do feel good about his ability to be able to get up to speed in a quick manner,” McVay said.
Donald’s contract situation probably will play out through the summer and training camp. The Texans, for example, did not sign Watt to a new deal until the eve of the season opener.
McVay said he was just happy to speak with Donald face to face.
“We all want to come to a resolution,” McVay said, “and we feel great about what Aaron’s done for this organization, and we’re optimistic about what’s to come.”
Donald was not the only pass rusher limited to the sideline Tuesday.
Linebacker Robert Quinn recently underwent a surgical procedure on his right hand, McVay said. Quinn’s hand and wrist were wrapped in a soft cast.
“It was a minor thing and it was something that’s not going to hold him back going into camp,” McVay said, adding, “It was a situation where we were able to get it addressed so that it’s going to be fixed.”
Rookie receiver Cooper Kupp made a nice catch for a touchdown but appeared to land hard on his back. He was assisted off the field and did not return to drills. … Alexander remains limited while recovering from a hip issue that kept him sidelined during OTAs. He is participating in individual drills and walk-throughs. Alexander played free safety last season, but with Lamarcus Joyner moving from cornerback to free safety, Alexander said he was mainly working at strong safety. … Quarterback Jared Goff, who said during OTAs that he had gained about 10 pounds since last season, reiterated that it was a natural progression and that he had annually gained about the same amount of weight. “I’m 22 now, you can do the math,” said Goff, who is listed at 223 pounds. “And then I hope it slows down about 23, 24.”
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein