St. Louis Rams: Jo-Lonn Dunbar

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams don't have as many injury question marks this week as they did last but the ones they do have were concentrated mostly in one area Wednesday evening.

The Rams had seven players who did not participate in Wednesday's practice and four of those players were defensive backs. Cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins (knee), E.J. Gaines (knee) and Marcus Roberson (ankle) and safety Rodney McLeod (knee) did not practice. Linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar (toe), tight end Cory Harkey (knee) and defensive end William Hayes (fibula) also sat out the workout.

St. Louis practiced a little later than a normal Wednesday practice and did part of the workout at walkthrough pace, presumably in an effort to allow some more time to heal.

Jenkins and defensive end Chris Long, who is still working his way back from an ankle injury, did some running on the side under the guidance of head athletic trainer Reggie Scott.

Here's the a breakdown of Wednesday's injury report:

Did not participate: CB Janoris Jenkins (knee), CB E.J. Gaines (knee), CB Marcus Roberson (ankle), S Rodney McLeod (knee), LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar (toe), DE William Hayes (fibula), TE Cory Harkey (knee).

Limited participation: S Cody Davis (concussion).

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Before the 2014 season began, much of the St. Louis Rams' success was said to hinge on the week-to-week performance of new coordinator Gregg Williams' defense.

After seven weeks of floundering in the same vat of mediocrity, Sunday's 13-10 victory over the San Francisco 49ers came on the backs of a defense, especially a front seven, that finally lived up to its billing.

"Coming into this hostile environment, it was going to have to be up front," defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. "This team thinks they can bully people up and down the field. We were saying they weren't going to do that to us."

It was the Rams' defense that did the vast majority of the bullying, with Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the receiving end. The oft-laughed-at hashtag #SackCity began to populate right away with six first-half sacks, the most in a first half by a Rams team since sacks became an official statistic. They finished with eight, led by a pair each from ends Robert Quinn and William Hayes, the first time the Rams had that many in a game since 2003.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezThe Rams defense had a huge day against the 49ers, especially in forcing a fumble on a goal-line stand in the closing seconds.
Those eight sacks were the most Kaepernick had suffered in his career, coming on seven drives, all of which ended with no points for the Niners. For a team that had all of six sacks in the first seven games, Sunday's performance represented something much closer to the avalanche that Quinn said would follow the first snowflake (sack) just a few weeks ago.

"To have six sacks throughout the first seven games and to have eight today is a heck of a pass rush, especially against a quarterback like Kaepernick who can get out of the pocket fast," Quinn said.

Beyond the finally-in-rhythm pass rush, the Rams held Niners running back Frank Gore to 49 yards on 14 carries, an average of 3.5 yards per attempt. The Niners finished with 263 yards of offense and St. Louis found a way to get off the field consistently by holding the Niners to 3-of-12 on third down.

More important than all of that, the Rams found a way to get the stop to win the game when they absolutely had to have it. It's something they couldn't do in home games against Dallas and San Francisco. This time, it happened in most unusual fashion.

Given just three weeks between meetings with the 49ers, Williams and the Rams didn't have much time to look for idiosyncrasies in San Francisco's offense. With such a familiar opponent, adding unseen wrinkles can be difficult. But as Williams studied the Niners' goal-line tendencies and compared them to his own, he recognized something in his group that could be exploited if he didn't tweak it.

Williams saw a Niners' offense that liked to attack a gap between the tackles that the Rams usually left open as they often favored a look that overloaded the defensive line to one side. But the Niners often would attack that gap with fullback Bruce Miller, leaving a guard head-to-head against a linebacker.

To combat that look, Williams tweaked things to allow the Rams to attack the A and B gaps, leaving a more balanced defensive line and asking the Niners to attack on the edge.

With San Francisco at the Rams' 1 and only 9 seconds to play, Williams called for the changed look upfront.

"We really have three or four fronts in goal line that we have and go into every week, so it was just a great adjustment by Gregg and great instincts," linebacker James Laurinaitis said.

The call worked to perfection as Kaepernick took the snap with the intent of going up over the top for the game-winning touchdown on a sneak. Sensing the sneak before the snap, Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar crashed over the top of the middle of the line with the idea that Kaepernick would have to go high with the sneak.

Kaepernick mishandled the snap, lost the ball and Laurinaitis smothered it to end the game.

"It feels great for the game to be on our shoulders and for us to win the game," Dunbar said. "We haven’t been able to close those games in those types of situations and we have given up big plays, and we didn’t do that today. It feels good to do that and I think it’s something we can build on."

Upon coming up with the ball, Laurinaitis quickly showed it to an official. In his hands was the Rams' third victory of the season. It was a fitting bit of symbolism for a defense that was supposed to have games in its hands all along.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- An injury list so comprehensive that the St. Louis Rams opted for a walk-through rather than a practice Wednesday showed plenty of improvement Friday as the team prepared to head to San Francisco.

While the 13 players who started on the injury report remain there, many of them took steps forward as the week has gone along. To the point that some players that many presumed might not be available this weekend will be probable for Sunday's game.

Of most pressing urgency, the offensive line and secondary look like they're going to have some of their normal options available. Starting right guard Rodger Saffold (shoulder) and center Scott Wells (elbow) participated fully in Friday's practice and are listed as probable for Sunday. Even backup center Tim Barnes (shoulder) has recovered enough to be considered probable.

In the secondary, the Rams will have more decisions to make with less certainty surrounding their options there. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins (knee) was the only Ram not to practice in some capacity Friday and he's listed as questionable against the Niners. He looks to be the most questionable of all the Rams after not practicing this week. Fellow cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson (knee), Lamarcus Joyner (hip) and Marcus Roberson (ankle) are listed as probable.

At safety, Rodney McLeod (knee) progressed enough to practice on a limited basis but will be one of the decisions that Rams coach Jeff Fisher has to make Sunday. Cody Davis has passed the concussion protocol and is also probable to play.

The other questionable Rams to monitor are defensive tackle Aaron Donald (shoulder) and linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar (toe). Both practiced on a limited basis Friday.

Here's the complete breakdown of Friday's injury report:

Questionable: CB Janoris Jenkins (knee), DT Aaron Donald (shoulder), S Rodney McLeod (knee), LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar (toe).

Probable: DE William Hayes (foot), G Rodger Saffold (shoulder), C Scott Wells (elbow), S Cody Davis (concussion), CB Trumaine Johnson (knee), C Tim Barnes (shoulder), WR Kenny Britt (hip), CB Marcus Roberson (ankle), DB Lamarcus Joyner (hip).

Wounded Rams take it easy Wednesday

October, 29, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With so many injuries and a familiar opponent waiting on Sunday, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher took it easy on his team Wednesday.

Instead of a normal midweek practice, the Rams went through an hour-long walkthrough before heading inside for a team activity believed to include some yoga.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher said the different approach was taken as a direct result of the team's lengthy injury report.

"I had 13 people on the injury report and I felt like we needed to back down today," Fisher said. "Our focus is having them ready at 1 o'clock on Sunday."

The 13 players on the injury report is in addition to the season-ending losses of left tackle Jake Long and receiver Brian Quick earlier this week.

Fisher said he felt comfortable going with the different Wednesday approach because of the team's familiarity with the 49ers and the short turnaround between games. The Rams and Niners just met on Oct. 13.

"We're familiar with them," Fisher said. "They've had a week off. We've basically had a day off. We're gonna get going tomorrow and go play."

Because the team participated in a walkthrough rather than a practice, it would seem to make filling out an injury report a tricky proposition. Some players can walk but might not have been able to practice.

Fisher explained that league protocol requires the team to estimate how much practice a player would have done had it been a normal practice. The result was a group of eight players listed as not participating and five more listed as limited participation.

"Because you don't practice full speed, you have to estimate had you had a full practice, what would they have done?" Fisher said. "We went ahead and did that and were accurate with that and we'll get some players back tomorrow I'm sure and then more and more players back on Friday."

Here's the team's full Wednesday injury report:

Did not participate: DE William Hayes (foot), G Rodger Saffold (shoulder), CB Janoris Jenkins (knee), DT Aaron Donald (shoulder), S Rodney McLeod (knee), LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar (toe), C Scott Wells (elbow) and S Cody Davis (concussion).

Limited participation: CB Trumaine Johnson (knee), C Tim Barnes (shoulder), WR Kenny Britt (hip), CB Marcus Roberson (ankle), CB Lamarcus Joyner (hip).
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The details of what happened on Nov. 11, 2012 are probably a bit fuzzy for then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. That was the day that Smith last played the St. Louis Rams.

It was also the day that changed Smith's career forever. Early in the second quarter, Smith took a hit from Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, a play that resulted in a concussion that didn't lead to his immediate exit from the game but did when the series came to its conclusion.

Smith
When Smith departed, he did not return to that contest or any of the seven that followed. Colin Kaepernick, the Niners' second round pick in 2011, replaced Smith and never looked back. Out of a job in San Francisco, Smith landed in Kansas City via an offseason trade in 2013.

As Smith and the Chiefs prepare for Sunday's game against the Rams, Smith said he hasn't given much thought to the game that altered the course of his career.

"I don't," Smith said. "I haven't given it any thought to be totally honest. Schematically getting ready to play these guys and Coach [Jeff] Fisher, that was the last game I was getting ready to play there [in San Francisco], obviously I remember that, but certainly has nothing to do with this game."

No, Sunday's meeting has nothing to do with what happened then but it's a notable matchup considering what's happened to Smith since he left San Francisco. As a former No. 1 overall pick, Smith's career looked to be headed toward disappointment before Jim Harbaugh arrived. Smith was finally getting things going under Harbaugh's guidance before the concussion landed him on the sideline.

Kaepernick would have likely claimed the job one way or another eventually but Smith's injury expedited the process. As it turns out, it's become a net positive for Kansas City and Smith.

Working under coach Andy Reid, Smith led the Chiefs to a 2013 playoff berth while throwing for a career best 3,313 yards and 23 touchdowns. It was a convincing enough performance that Kansas City signed Smith to a four-year contract extension that could be worth $68 million if he is able to play it out.

In six games this season, Smith is on pace to post similar numbers with 1,270 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions for a rating of 91.0. Fisher has come away impressed with Smith's work since relocating.

"Alex is playing very, very well," Fisher said. "Alex has deceptive speed. He can pull the ball down, run for big plays, is making really good decisions. They've done some amazing things with him as far as timing's concerned. That ball's coming out and it's accurate and they put a lot of stress on your defense by the way they disperse the receivers."

Almost two years after it happened, the details of that fateful day aren't really important. Whether he can remember it or if he simply chooses not to, one can understand. It all worked out in the end.

"It's been great," Smith said. "Now I feel like I've been here a while in football years, all last year. This is home."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- After a short rest period before returning to practice Wednesday, the St. Louis Rams had a lengthier injury report than normal. But things got back to normal a little bit Thursday, offering a better indication of who is going to be ready for Sunday's game against Seattle.

Among the players who did not practice Wednesday, running back Zac Stacy (ankle), receiver Austin Pettis (ankle) and defensive tackle Alex Carrington (knee) were back on the practice field Thursday.

Linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who has been dealing with a thigh injury but practiced Wednesday, sat out Thursday's workout.

Here's the full breakdown for Thursday:

Did not participate: C Tim Barnes (shoulder), LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar (thigh)

Limited participation: DT Alex Carrington (knee), DL Ethan Westbrooks (hand), CB Trumaine Johnson (limited), CB Brandon McGee (foot)

Full participation: WR Austin Pettis (ankle), RB Zac Stacy (ankle), RB Chase Reynolds (thigh), OL Barrett Jones (back)
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As expected, St. Louis Rams running back Zac Stacy did not practice Thursday night as the team continued preparation for Monday night's matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.

Stacy suffered a calf injury in last week's game against the Philadelphia Eagles and did not finish. Earlier this week, coach Jeff Fisher said Stacy would probably miss practice time but would have a chance to play against the 49ers. Benny Cunningham replaced Stacy against the Eagles.

Elsewhere on the injury report, the Rams had a couple of new additions. Defensive lineman Alex Carrington (knee) did not practice and linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar and defensive end Eugene Sims were limited participants because of groin injuries.

Here's the complete Rams injury report for Thursday:

Did not participate: CB Trumaine Johnson (knee), Stacy (calf), CB Brandon McGee (foot), Carrington (knee)

Limited participation: OL Barrett Jones (back), Dunbar (groin), Sims (groin)

Rams searching for answers against run

September, 19, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Despite the lingering stench from the St. Louis Rams' Week 3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys last year, the team's run defense turned out to be much better than it showed after running back DeMarco Murray ran all over them.

By the end of the season, the Rams were ninth in the NFL in average rushing yards allowed per game (102.8) and third in the league in yards allowed per attempt (3.7).

With all 11 defensive starters returning this year and coordinator Gregg Williams taking over, that group figured only to improve against the run. Through two weeks, that hasn't been the case.

It's a small sample size, of course, but in games against Minnesota and Tampa Bay, the Rams have allowed 171 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 30th in the NFL. They're also coughing up 5.5 yards per carry, which also ranks 30th.

The reasons for the early regression are many, but the defense to this point has looked more like a group of individuals out to do it all more than handling individual responsibilities for the greater good.

[+] EnlargeBobby Rainey
Jeff Haynes/AP Images for PaniniTampa Bay's Bobby Rainey gained 144 yards on 22 carries against the Rams.
"It’s just a lot of guys trying to make plays," Dunbar said. "We talked about it this past week. It wasn’t a scheme thing, it was just everybody taking their turn... we’re not fitting it right. Somebody took their turn here and there."

In other words, there have been many examples of players not playing sound assignment football and freelancing from play to play. As Dunbar points out, there isn't any single culprit and, in fact, the film shows that almost everyone on the defense has been guilty at some point.

Perhaps most surprising, the young secondary has actually been the most consistent group from down to down.

"I think really the front seven just has to play better," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "There’s no excuses. Missed tackles are no excuse. When we have the opportunity to go and trigger and make plays, we’ve got to make those plays. I like the way that the front seven has been humbled this week."

Missed run fits and blown assignments aren't the only issues. Through two weeks, Pro Football Focus counted 27 missed tackles for the Rams. They had 18 in the opener against Minnesota, meaning they improved some last week against the Bucs, but not enough to keep little-known back Bobby Rainey from gaining 144 yards on 22 carries.

Beyond the tackling, the Rams also found themselves put in some odd positions. Tampa Bay had great success running the ball on second down, many times on second-and-long plays when Williams would dial up a blitz or Rams defenders would be anticipating a pass and get a run instead. With the line and linebackers a bit frustrated by only making one sack through two weeks, that means anything resembling a passing down has left the front seven a bit undisciplined.

"I think there’s a fine line sometimes when you’re in certain coverages where you have to say, ‘OK, am I going to play for the run here or am I going to play for the pass here?’" Laurinaitis said. "If I play for the run, I’m not leveraging the pass. If I play for the pass, I’m not leveraging the run."

Any improvements or fixes the Rams have attempted this week will be put to their biggest test. After finishing 29th in rush attempts last year, Dallas has the look of an NFC West team with its physical and committed approach to running the ball.

The Cowboys have the fourth-most rushing attempts in the league heading into Sunday and are second in the league in rushing yards per game. Murray is off to his career-best start and has rushed for 428 yards on 51 carries in two previous meetings with the Rams.

For the Rams to have any chance at beating Dallas, they're going to have to sell out to stop the run first and sort everything else out afterward. Until it gets solved, that has to be the plan.

"We have just got to get in sync with it, and I’m confident we will," Laurinaitis said. "But that stuff definitely deserves to be talked about until we put the fire out. You can’t sit there, and if you told me before the year we’d have 170 yards averaged against us, I’d be like, ‘Get out of here.’ But that’s where we are right now. I think guys have really swallowed their pride and like, ‘Hey, we need to work at this; let’s go out and work at it.’ No excuses."

Johnson, Jones only Rams to sit out

September, 4, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams only appear to be improving on the health front after their second open practice of the week Thursday night.

Cornerback Trumaine Johnson (knee) and offensive lineman Barrett Jones (back) were again the only two players not to participate in practice. That's no surprise as both players have longer term injuries that might not see them return until after the bye week.

Elsewhere, however, the Rams upgraded three of their injured players from limited participation to full participation. Linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar (shoulder), end William Hayes (chest) and tackle Jake Long (knee) all took part in the full practice Thursday.

Defensive end Eugene Sims (knee) was limited for the second day in a row.

Full participation: Dunbar, Hayes, Long
Limited participation: Sims
Did not participate: Johnson, Jones
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- We've finally reached the point of the season where we no longer have to play shadow games when it comes to injuries. The start of the regular season means the start of official injury reports.

The St. Louis Rams released their first one Wednesday afternoon with no surprises on the list. In fact, the only two players not to participate were the two you would have expected if you've been paying attention: cornerback Trumaine Johnson and offensive lineman Barrett Jones. Johnson has a sprained MCL that is expected to cost him four to six weeks and Jones is coming off back surgery with no definitive timetable for return.

Aside from that pair, the Rams had left tackle Jake Long (knee), end William Hayes (chest), linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar (shoulder) and end Eugene Sims (knee) on a limited basis.

Here's the injury report in easier to read list format:

Did not participate: CB Trumaine Johnson (knee), OL Barrett Jones (back)

Limited participation: LT Jake Long (knee), DE William Hayes (chest), LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar (shoulder), DE Eugene Sims (knee)

Rams' Dunbar focused on football

July, 26, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With his legal issues in Florida still pending, St. Louis Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar can't say much about the incident that took place last weekend. Perhaps not even as much as he'd like to. But, in speaking to the media for the first time since an altercation with NBA free agent Donte Greene outside a Miami nightclub, Dunbar offered what he could.

Dunbar
"I can’t say much just because it’s a legal issue," Dunbar said. "It’s unfortunate, but it’s a legal issue that has to take care of its due process first. I apologize, but that’s kind of the way the system works."

As details of the fight trickled out in the days following the incident, there were a few points of clarification worth making. From many reports, it sounded as though Dunbar was simply trying to defend himself from Greene and Greene's brother D'Metrique.

More importantly, the charges against Dunbar were not the same as initially reported by the Associated Press. Instead of felony battery charges, Dunbar will have to answer to disorderly conduct charges, which is a misdemeanor.

Presumably, Dunbar was able to tell Rams coach Jeff Fisher and the team's decision-makers his side of the story when he met with them earlier this week.

"I spoke to coach and everybody and kind of just explained the situation and circumstances," Dunbar said. "They have a clear understanding of my (role) in this situation, so they are understanding. It’s unfortunate, but hopefully we can just get past it and we can move on."

That's clearly what Dunbar's plan was as the Rams opened their full-squad training camp Friday afternoon. After becoming something of a defensive revelation in 2012, the 2013 season was pretty close to a disaster for Dunbar. Dunbar served a four-game suspension for violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances but had to do so as a free agent after the Rams released him before the regular season.

Dunbar re-signed with the Rams after his suspension, but when he returned, his role had been diminished by the presence of rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree. By the time the season had ended, Dunbar had just 39 tackles and not much else. But with the chance to reunite Dunbar and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and memories of his productive 2012 season, the Rams re-signed Dunbar to a two-year contract in free agency.

This offseason, Dunbar set about finding ways to make himself more versatile. "(I'm) completely motivated," Dunbar said. "I spent my whole offseason doing it. I lost a lot of weight. I did a lot of DB drills. Linebacker drills, too, but just making sure I can play in space and operate in space. I’m expecting to play well this year."

Dunbar said he dropped about 13 pounds from his 2013 playing weight of 240 pounds to get down to his current 227 pounds. Much of that work came from working on defensive back drills so that he'd have a better chance to contribute on passing downs. In some ways, Dunbar now looks more like a big safety than a linebacker.What his role becomes remains to be seen, though he's projected to handle the outside linebacker job opposite Ogletree.

For now, Dunbar is just excited to put aside off-the-field issues and get back to work.

"It was definitely a relief to be back, considering everything," Dunbar said. "I’m happy to be back, happy to be playing football and doing something I would rather be doing."
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For the second consecutive season, St. Louis Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar has made headlines for the wrong reasons near the start of training camp.

Reports from The Associated Press indicate that Dunbar was involved in a fight outside a Miami nightclub early Sunday morning. Dunbar got into an altercation with NBA free-agent forward Donte Greene outside Dream Nightclub, according to Miami Beach Police Detective Vivian Thayer, who said both men were arrested and will face charges of battery and disorderly conduct.

Dunbar
With further details unavailable at this time, this could be nothing deeper than a fight between a couple of athletes. But in Dunbar's case, it's not this incident that is alarming so much as the unsightly pattern that has begun to form when it comes to him and off-field incidents near the start of training camp.

The Rams have seemingly made it through the scariest part of the offseason without any serious issues, and while a fight doesn't really qualify, it does add another negative mark on Dunbar's record as the team opens camp this week.

Last year, Dunbar entered camp as a presumptive starter at outside linebacker, but those plans took a U-turn when the NFL suspended him four games for violation of its policy against performance-enhancing substances. A clearly irritated coach Jeff Fisher made it clear he was unhappy with Dunbar, and instead of keeping him on the roster during the suspension, the Rams released him and signed veteran linebacker Will Witherspoon.

Dunbar re-signed for the rest of the 2013 season after serving the suspension but came back to reduced snaps with Alec Ogletree handling three-down duty alongside James Laurinaitis. Dunbar finished with 39 tackles in 12 games and 10 starts.

Despite the underwhelming season, in March the Rams brought Dunbar back on a two-year deal worth up to $3.5 million with hopes that reuniting him with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who coached Dunbar in New Orleans, could get him back on track.

While more information needs to be gathered and the legal process still has to play out, Dunbar is obviously not doing himself any favors as he attempts to hold down the starting job opposite Ogletree. As it stands, Dunbar is projected to remain the starter, but second-year linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong has impressed coaches enough to get more opportunities to contribute and was already poised to push for an expanded role in 2014.

Whether or not Dunbar faces any further punishment from the team or the league, it's fair to wonder if Armstrong could now get an even closer look when camp opens.
With the NFL draft and free agency complete, the St. Louis Rams' 53-man roster will likely come mostly from the players already on the team.

With organized team activities less than a week away, we take a look at where each position stands heading into next week. The next in the series continues today by examining the linebackers.

Dunbar
Who returns: James Laurinaitis, Alec Ogletree, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Ray Ray Armstrong, Daren Bates, Phillip Steward, Caleb McSurdy

Who is new: Etienne Sabino, Johnny Millard, Tavarius Wilson, Aaron Hill

Who is gone: Will Witherspoon

Projected starters: Laurinaitis, Ogletree, Dunbar

Pending competition: Laurinaitis and Ogletree are locked into their spots with Dunbar the odds-on favorite to handle the third linebacker duties. Dunbar is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2013 and now that he's reunited with coordinator Gregg Williams, he should have the chance to do that. But a sort of hidden battle in the making might involve Armstrong's emergence. The Rams like his upside for the defense and he could find a way to push for more playing time aside from his role as a core special-teams player. Bates also figures to return as a leader for the special-teams group and backup. From there, it's anybody's guess who wins a possible sixth linebacker spot with special teams serving as the primary evaluation tool. Steward is a promising youngster who had his rookie season derailed by an injury. Of the undrafted rookie crop, Wilson is a player who draws some intrigue.

Outlook: Ogletree and Laurinaitis are expected to be cornerstone pieces of the defense for the foreseeable future. Ogletree improved as his rookie season went on and still has work to do, but he has the tools to be a productive player for a long time if he continues to develop. Laurinaitis is the mainstay and leader of the defense and will become something of a bargain in the next couple of years as his salary-cap number drops dramatically. Dunbar signed a two-year deal and could stick longer if he can return closer to his 2012 form but Armstrong figures to begin pushing him sooner than later. The Rams should be fine if the starters stay healthy, but if they don't they could have a real problem on their hands. The Rams have almost zero experience amongst the backup linebackers and only Armstrong currently projects as someone who could help out on defense in the event of an injury. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Rams search for a veteran backup like they did with Witherspoon last year. Even Witherspoon himself might be the solution for another go. Otherwise, the Rams will be entering the season in a bit of a precarious position in terms of depth at the position.

Rams draft preview: Linebacker

April, 28, 2014
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The NFL draft is set to begin May 8 and the St. Louis Rams hold 12 picks in this year's selection process. For the next week and a half, we'll take a look at a different position every day with what the Rams have in place at a position, what they need, when they might address it and some possible fits.

We begin the countdown with a look at this year's crop of linebackers.

In place: James Laurinaitis (starter), Alec Ogletree (starter), Jo-Lonn Dunbar (starter), Ray Ray Armstrong, Daren Bates, Phillip Steward, Etienne Sabino

What's needed: The Rams re-signed Dunbar to a two-year contract during free agency, essentially easing the need to add a possible third starting linebacker to expected stalwarts Laurinaitis and Ogletree. Dunbar might not be the long term solution, but he figures to be better in 2014 after a four-game suspension threw his 2013 season into flux. With Gregg Williams in as defensive coordinator, Dunbar should be able to get closer to the 2012 version of himself rather than last year's. In reality, the Rams don't have a huge, pressing need for any linebackers, though they could potentially look for an option to push Dunbar or possibly even start over him. They like Armstrong's potential, but it's probably too early to project him as a possible starter. A pass-rushing type at linebacker would be a helpful addition as would someone who could serve as a backup to Laurinaitis.

Possible fits: It seems unlikely the Rams will look to add a linebacker in the early rounds, but it would be unwise to unilaterally rule it out. Buffalo's Khalil Mack and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier are likely first-round picks who both came to St. Louis for pre-draft visits. Mack might not be the ideal fit in terms of scheme, but he does bring that pass-rushing element and could be a bit of a sleeper for the team's first choice. Alabama's C.J. Mosley is another player the Rams have some interest in who could be intriguing if he lasts to No. 13 based on value and the fact that he could provide some versatility. More likely, though, the Rams will wait until later to add some help at this position. Getting into those later rounds, players such as Florida State's Telvin Smith and Christian Jones, BYU's Kyle Van Noy, Montana's Jordie Tripp and Arizona State's Carl Bradford could be logical additions.

Verdict: The temptation to take Mack would be understandable given his skill set and the many ways Williams can deploy him, but his selection would still come as a surprise considering that he's not clearly better than players who play positions of more pressing need. Mosley might be a bit of a sleeper in his own right as a possible first-round pick should he fall to 13, but again the guess here is that the Rams choose to wait and add a linebacker or two in the later rounds. With a dozen picks and many of them toward the back of the draft it would make sense for the team to wait to add more depth here.

Breaking down Dunbar's contract

March, 18, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams re-signed linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar late last week, bringing back a key piece of the defense in 2012 who was unable to duplicate it in 2013.

Dunbar
After serving a four-game suspension for violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances, Dunbar returned to a situation much different than his first year with the team. Rookie Alec Ogletree already had replaced him alongside James Laurinaitis as the team's primary three-down linebackers, and Dunbar's snaps were reduced drastically.

As the third linebacker, Dunbar played 397 snaps in 2013, a far cry from the 1,025 he logged in 2012. Of course, that includes a four-game difference, but it still works out to a drop from about 64 snaps per game to 33 snaps a game.

As such, Dunbar's new two-year deal with the Rams pays him a little more than $2 million with incentives that can take it past $3 million. The deal is in line with a player who likely will be used in a fashion similar to 2013 than 2012.

Here's the breakdown of Dunbar's new deal (palindromes included!):

2014

Base salary: $751,157
Guaranteed roster bonus: $128,821 (to be paid March 30)
Cap value: $879,978
Cash value: $879,978

2015

Base salary: $999,999
Non-guaranteed roster bonus: $125,521
Cap value: $1,125,520
Cash value: $1,125,520

Notes: The only money guaranteed in the deal is the 2014 roster bonus of $128,821. In addition, Dunbar has incentives for playing time and team performance that can earn him up to $720,022 in each of the two seasons on the contract. Playing 50 percent or more of the snaps or the Rams making the playoffs in 2014 would not only earn him incentive money but would also give him the option to void the 2015 season. If Dunbar played both seasons and hit all incentives, he could earn an additional $1,440,044, which would bring the total of the deal to just under $3.5 million.

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