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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Per league rules, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar had to wait until just after 4 p.m. ET Tuesday before he could return to the St. Louis Rams' practice field.
After passing a physical Tuesday morning and officially re-signing with the team later in the afternoon, Dunbar jogged out to the field right on cue at 4:04 to a one-man standing ovation from defensive end Chris Long.
The Rams released offensive tackle Max Starks to make room for Dunbar.
It was a return nearly a full month in the making. The Rams released Dunbar on Sept. 3, little more than two weeks after he received a four-game suspension for violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
That time away left plenty of opportunities for Dunbar to reassess all that had happened in going from an integral part of the Rams defense in 2012 to free agent in 2013.
"It puts the whole thing in perspective," Dunbar said. "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."
Wearing his customary No. 58 and sporting a fresh cut mohawk, Dunbar said he spent his time away working out at the University of Miami and doing his best to stay sharp on the Rams' defensive scheme. League rules for a performance-enhancing suspension stipulate that Dunbar wasn't allowed in the team's facility for the duration of the penalty, so he made do with his leftover notes.
Soon after Dunbar's release, coach Jeff Fisher made it clear that the door was open for a return when his suspension was up. In the meantime, Dunbar said he received some interest from a few other teams and though a return to St. Louis wasn't guaranteed, it's the destination he wanted all along.
"You just never know where the cards may fall," Dunbar said. "Luckily they fell in a direction where I can return and get back to playing football."
Dunbar's return comes at a convenient time for the Rams, who practiced Tuesday without injured veteran Will Witherspoon, Dunbar's replacement in the starting lineup. Witherspoon suffered a hamstring injury against San Francisco last week.
Dunbar is also coming back to a defense that has struggled in the first four weeks, and has allowed an average of 206 rushing yards the past two weeks. Dunbar finished second on the team in tackles in 2012 with 115, adding 4½ sacks, 13 tackles for loss and a pair of interceptions.
Given Witherspoon's injury, it's possible Dunbar could return to the starting lineup this week against Jacksonville.
"We're excited and glad to have him," Fisher said. "We don't know where Will is going to be this week so it's good timing."