In what was a bit of a soap opera from start to finish, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar will finally be back on the field for Week 5 of the NFL season.
The St. Louis Rams cut the veteran loose on September 3, just two weeks after he was suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy. Head coach Jeff Fisher used words like “disappointed” and “selfish” to describe Dunbar’s actions upon releasing him, but in reality he had to have more disappointment in his porous defense through the first four weeks than anything.
Dunbar certainly showed some contrition upon his return to the practice field as he told ESPN:
“It puts the whole thing in perspective. It just makes you appreciate the opportunity that you’re given. It’s cliché to say it but it’s honestly the truth. I feel bad that I put myself in that situation but I think I have gained a greater perspective and passion and love for what I do.”
After career highs a season ago with 115 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and two interceptions, it seems fair to question if Dunbar can duplicate that performance without the aid of banned substances. As merely a veteran cog for the bulk of his career prior to last season, perhaps he will fall back to earth in his return to St. Louis.
Regardless of his on-field impact, many Rams described Dunbar as the emotional leader of the defense last season. That type of leadership is especially useful with the league’s youngest team for the second year in a row. With rookie Alec Ogletree added to the linebacking corps, Dunbar will have to set a good example for the youngster to set him on the proper path.
This return actually comes at an ideal time for the Rams with veteran offseason addition Will Witherspoon’s status up in the air after a hamstring injury last week. There’s no doubt the Rams’ 24th ranked defense could use some help after getting destroyed on the ground for the past three weeks. Hopefully Dunbar will help plug some of those holes and keep this team within striking distance on a more consistent basis.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Dunbar hop right into the starting lineup this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars as the defensive concepts haven’t changed much. The Rams have to be hoping that the results are the only thing that is different with the return of their veteran leader.