April 2, 2012

Dunbar signs with Rams

MLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, a homegrown undrafted talent developed by Gregg Williams and Joe Vitt during his four seasons with the Saints, has signed with the St. Louis Rams.  Dunbar was a key member of a Saints linebacking corps in 2011 that was widely considered the weak part of the defense.

Dunbar started last season at middle and strongside linebacker for the Saints and arrived in 2008 with Vilma.  He became Vilma's primary backup and protege' by 2011, when the never-hurt Vilma finally missed a start.  With Curtis Lofton on board, Dunbar's starting job at his more natural position of middle linebacker was unattainable.

Despite being a experienced and valuable special teamer, Dunbar left for St. Louis for a chance to start - something Steve Spagnuolo couldn't give him.

Earlier this offseason, the Rams hired ex-Saint Gregg Williams to be their defensive coordinator, but he was suspended indefinitely by the league for being the instigator of the Saints' bounty scandal from 2009-2011.  

Dunbar also hit the free agent market last year, but the Saints were able to re-sign him after the lockout ended.

Dunbar made his name early on special teams, with dizzying blocks on two Reggie Bush punt return touchdowns in a memorable Monday Night shootout with the Vikings.  Caught by cameras celebrating with hand and head movements taunting his devastated opponents, the fired-up Dunbar helped Reggie Bush keep the Saints in a game that they eventually lost in heartbreaking fashion.

In 2009, Dunbar shined with a 13-tackle performance in the preseason finale.  But in 2010, Gregg Williams shook up the linebacking corps, benching Dunbar temporarily in a move that injuries would unravel.

Perhaps the biggest play of Dunbar's career came late in the Saints' overtime victory against the Falcons this season in Atlanta.  His excellent sideline tackle and forced fumble on FB Mike Cox short of the first down marker forced Falcons head coach Mike Smith into a fourth down attempt deep in his own territory.  When RB Michael Turner was stuffed at the line and dropped for a loss, Smith had all but handed the game to the Saints.

According to stats site Advanced NFL stats, Dunbar was ranked far and away the best linebacker for a dismal Saints crew in 2011, and the second-best rated defender on the team behind SS Roman Harper.  To the Saints credit, they have moved to erase that bad memory by adding ex-Ram LB Chris Chamberlain and ex-Falcon LB Curtis Lofton.

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