From the outside looking in, the Rams’ dramatically improved play at outside linebacker so far this season qualifies as a rather under-the-radar upgrade, compared to the flashier improvements at other positions such as cornerback, courtesy of free-agent addition Cortland Finnegan and rookie Janoris Jenkins, and placekicker, where Greg Zuerlein still must be considered a major success despite proving to be a mere mortal with three consecutive missed three-pointers in the Week Six loss to the Dolphins.
But particularly because of the quality effort of free-agent addition Jo-Lonn Dunbar on the weak side, where the ex-Saint has excelled both against the run and the pass, a major weakness at outside linebacker in 2011 has been turned into a definite strength.
“He’s been a little ball of fire,” one team insider said of the 6-0, 226-pound Dunbar, who has started every game on the weak side and ranks second, according to the team, behind fellow LB James Laurinaitis in tackles (54). “He runs well, he hits hard and he brings a lot of energy to the defense. He has delivered some crushing hits, like the one he put on (QB) Kevin Kolb against the Cardinals. Sometimes he gets a little overaggressive and gets sucked in on play-action, but for the most part, he’s been yet another really good free-agent pickup this year.
“I would have to think (suspended defensive coordinator) Gregg Williams (formerly with the Saints) probably had some input in getting Dunbar.”
Whatever the case, Dunbar has been getting it done on a consistent basis. Like Laurinaitis, he seldom leaves the field (he played all 54 defensive snaps vs. Miami on a day when the Dolphins managed only 19 rushing yards on 18 carries). In addition, he joins DEs Chris Long and Robert Quinn as the Rams’ defenders with multiple sacks through the first six games (three total, all in the past two games), and his team-high six tackles for loss attest to his quality play vs. the run.
On the strong side, another free-agent addition, former Redskin Rocky McIntosh, has not posted numbers on a par with Dunbar.
“But he’s been very solid,” the insider said. “Certainly a lot better than Brady Poppinga was last year.”