In mid-August, the league announced that St. Louis Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar would receive a four-game suspension to begin the season. This ban reportedly stemmed from a violation of the NFL’s policy on PEDs, and on the heels of a career year it left some scratching their heads. Now the Rams have taken all of the guessing out of his future with the club by releasing him late on Tuesday.
While this is definitely an admirable move from a morality standpoint, it does call into question the team’s depth at linebacker. Dunbar finished second on the team in tackles with 115 behind only James Laurinaitis. Even though the leading tackler does return, the team was already somewhat thin at the position having cut ties with frequent contributor from a season ago, Josh Hull, in the recent roster cut downs.
This new development puts an immense amount of pressure on first round pick Alec Ogletree to step in and perform right away. He was already penciled in as a starter, but now it will be Ogletree expected to produce big-time along with late free agent acquisition Will Witherspoon. The moves to draft Ogletree and sign Witherspoon suggest the team may have had an inkling this was coming after all, but the release of Hull is baffling to say the least considering they probably already knew that Dunbar was going to be given his walking papers.
Regardless of who knew what when, it certainly gives credence to head coach Jeff Fisher’s expressed disappointment shortly after the Dunbar suspension was announced as he told ESPN:
“First and foremost, we are very, very disappointed in his choices and his decisions. It’s selfish, it hurts the team but we also see it as an opportunity to learn from a mistake, so we discussed it with the entire squad last night and I think everybody understands the responsibilities that each and every player has as far as taking care of themselves and what you can do and what you can’t do.”
Those initial comments hint at the situation providing a learning experience for the others on the roster, but his follow-up remarks are strange in retrospect. Regarding Witherspoon, Fisher said:
“We’re glad he’s here. He’s started a lot of games and then we’ll make a decision when Jo-Lonn comes back as to who is going to take that position.”
And now that Jo-Lonn isn’t coming back, the Rams will likely be searching for some additional depth at the position. It really wouldn’t be a surprise to see them bring Hull back in as he still remains a free agent. Fisher is always adamant about having guys that are familiar with the defense, and it would be hard to find a player more freshly entrenched than Hull having just left.