Of the St. Louis Rams’ many changes made before the 2012 season, the signing of Jo-Lonn Dunbar may have flown a bit under the radar.
That may be the way Dunbar likes it. An undrafted free agent out of Boston College in 2008, Dunbar caught on with the New Orleans Saints and played in 15 of 16 games as a rookie. After a 2009 in which he started three games but only dressed for nine total – and received a Super Bowl ring for his efforts – Dunbar played a larger role in the Saints defense in 2010, starting eight games and registering his first professional sack.
But 2011 was the true coming-out party for the 27-year old outside linebacker. Dunbar started 14 of the team’s 16 games, registering 79 tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles. In his walk year, Dunbar started to make a name for himself.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead took notice. They brought Dunbar in to play outside linebacker alongside James Laurinaitis and Rocky McIntosh, giving the Rams perhaps their best linebacker unit since the early 2000s.
Through eight games, Dunbar hasn’t disappointed. Dunbar is well on his way to his best year as a professional, having already made 50 tackles on the year. He’s also got three sacks, including two in the week six loss to the Miami Dolphins in which he also forced a fumble. Dunbar’s three sacks is already a career high.
Dunbar set another career high in the season opener. Dunbar picked off Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford in the first half of the season-opening game, returning the interception 42 yards. It was Dunbar’s first career interception and, obviously, his first as a member of the Rams. By season’s end, Dunbar will have set personal bests across the board in his fifth year as a pro.
Along with the statistical contributions, Dunbar brings a cockiness to the Rams that was absent in recent years. He, along with free agent acquisition CB Cortland Finnegan, is a vocal and confident leader on the defense. Dunbar is brash both on and off the field, a leader that talks the talk and backs it up by walking the walk. If the Rams have a renewed confidence under Fisher, Dunbar is a leading example of that swagger.
Dunbar’s career year helped the Rams defense get off to a quick start before cooling off against some of the league’s elite quarterbacks in recent weeks. In the second half, Dunbar will look to get the defense back on track while continuing to pile up the statistics, two things that will likely go hand-in-hand. And, even as he’s cementing his place in the Rams linebacker corps, it will probably continue to go relatively unnoticed. It’s a good thing Dunbar is used to it by now.