Posted on December 25, 2012 at 11:05 PM
ST. LOUIS (Football StL) -- When the words "Rams" and "Linebacker" are thrown out in the same sentence no one outside of Boston College's campus thinks of Jo-Lonn Dunbar first. James Laurinaitis has been and will continue to be the leader of the that defense, let alone the linebackers.
When Dunbar stepped foot on the Rams practice field for training camp this summer no one knew what to expect. In four years with the Saints, never had the 27-year old ever eclipsed more than 79 combined tackles for a season. He'd gone 20 (2008), 20 (2009), 40 (2010) and 79 (2011).
Trending in the right direction, yes. Enough that you'd automatically assume he'd top 100 in 2012, no.
Well, that's exactly what Dunbar has done. 15 games into the season he's sitting at 103 combined tackles. That's second only to, you guessed it, James Laurinaitis and his 137.
Last offseason, the Rams had more holes to fill on their roster than pretty much any other team in the NFL. They needed help at wide receiver, running back, offensive line, defensive tackle, outside linebacker, cornerback, safety. You name it, pretty much the Rams needed it.
It's impossible to fix every problem in one fell swoop. Some areas will have to go largely unattended.
The Rams elected to use their draft picks at defensive tackle (Michael Brockers), running back (Isaiah Pead and Darryl Richardson), wide receiver (Chris Givens and Brian Quick) and cornerback (Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson).
Outside linebacker, while arguably as much of a need as all the others, didn't make that cut. The right fit just wasn't there. That meant free agency was going to have to be the answer. At least for now.
Here we are nearly all the way through this season and Jo-Lonn Dunbar has been everything the Rams have needed from that weak side linebacker position and more. Getting to 100 tackles is a big deal for NFL defenders. It's not too different from a baseball player hitting .300 or getting 100 RBIs.
It's a benchmark that not everyone gets to. Dunbar can now say he's a 100-sack kind of guy.
Is he James Laurinaitis? No. Dunbar doesn't figure to be the star here in St. Louis anytime soon. But for a complementary player? He's far exceeded anyone's expectations.