After the Rams opened their camp on July 29, they weren’t schedule to put on the pads for a full team practice until Aug. 2.
Of the 89 players on the current roster, perhaps none looked forward to that day more than linebacker
Signed as a free agent from New Orleans in the offseason, Dunbar was fed up with running around in shorts and t shirts and couldn’t wait to get into the real thing where actual contact was not only allowed but encouraged.
“(I was) extremely excited,” Dunbar said. “Anytime you are playing in shorts and t shirts, you are kind of just running to the ball and standing up but you really don’t know what it is until you get the pads on. It’s fun. You get to thud up a little bit; you get to talk a little trash. It’s always good.”
Dunbar wasted little to no time doing any of that. In that first padded practice last Thursday, Dunbar got a little overzealous a couple times, at one point even putting a little too much into contact with running back
That, of course, led to the first official skirmish of this year’s training camp as guard
“You are not trying to hurt anybody but definitely play physical and attack the ball,” Dunbar said.
Of course, it is that precise mentality that made Dunbar a perfect fit for coach Jeff Fisher’s team when it went searching for help at outside linebacker in free agency.
Dunbar spent his first four seasons playing in essentially the same defense the Rams now run for then coordinator Gregg Williams and his son Blake, who now serves as the linebackers coach for the Rams.
In that time, Dunbar played all three linebacker spots and made spot starts here and there in his first three seasons. But Dunbar finally got a more permanent opportunity in 2011 and made the most of it.
Dunbar started 14 games and finished with 90 tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles and seven passes defended. His performance certainly caught the attention of the Rams and made him one of their top priorities entering free agency.
Fisher and the Rams plugged Dunbar into the weak side linebacker spot right away and haven’t looked back since. In fact, Dunbar has been one of the guys that has consistently been around the ball and caught the attention of the coaching staff in the opening week of camp.
“The weakside linebacker spot requires some great speed, anticipation, physical play, cover skills and it also requires somebody that understands the defense,” Fisher said. “Many times he’s kind of mopping up and he’s almost a safety at the linebacker position. He knows the system. It’s just a perfect fit for us.”
Listed at 6 foot, 226 pounds, Dunbar isn’t the biggest linebacker in the game but Fisher says there is more to him than just being able to get through traffic with his speed and savvy.
“He does, but he can also take on, stop, shed and get off blocks,” Fisher said. “He recognizes things very well. If he’s not calling something out, it’s because he knows what’s coming and he can make the play himself.”
Dunbar has done his best to fit in on and off the field since arriving in St. Louis. Soon after signing with the Rams, he made it a point to seek out middle linebacker
The duo of Laurinaitis and Dunbar has become fast friends and lean on each other to learn the system, especially in nickel packages when they become the only two linebackers on the field.
“Oh yeah, we get along very well, we talk all the time,” Dunbar said. “I think we are football guys, football heads. I think that’s what we have in common and I think that’s why we get along well.”
Dunbar has also served as a sort of mentor for his defensive teammates who might have questions about the defensive scheme. With his four years of experience in the system, Dunbar is one of the most knowledgeable Rams when it comes to the ins and outs of the defense.
“I try to help, anyway I can help,” Dunbar said. “Anytime there is a question that’s asked, I try to help. The coaches pretty much have everything under control but sometimes a guy wants to ask a player instead of a coach and that’s just what I’m here for.”
More than a week into camp and with the offseason program behind him, Dunbar is looking at this opportunity as his chance to show he is a legitimate, productive NFL starter.
And there’s no defense he’d rather play.
“It’s just aggressive, it’s fast paced and I’m an aggressive guy,” Dunbar said. “I think that’s what I do best, play downhill and come after the ball. Anything that is asking us to be aggressive and going forward, I am in for it.”
GETTING COMFORTABLE: Quarterback
But Bradford’s knowledge and comfort has been more evident in the week-plus the team has been back to work in camp. Fisher has taken notice of Bradford’s early camp performance.
“Yeah, Sam is doing well,” Fisher said. “He’s got no problems with his leg, his accuracy is there and he has a good feel for what we are doing. And he’s got really good command in the huddle which I think is important.”
BROCKERS PROGRESSES: Count rookie defensive tackle
Brockers had flashed plenty of his potential in the spring and early in camp but Fisher and Co. wanted to see what he could do when he was actually allowed to have collisions with the offensive line.
“We were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the shoulder pads and we got the pads on and he continued to do what we saw without pads and what we expected,” Fisher said. “So far he is doing just fine out there.”
BACK IN THE MIX: With a day of rest on Sunday and the first preseason contest coming this week against Indianapolis, the Rams got some of their injured players back on the practice field Monday afternoon.
Many of the team’s injured defensive backs returned to action, just as Fisher had predicted on Saturday. Back in the secondary fold were cornerbacks
Their return was a welcome sight after the Rams had a near shortage last week.
“It’s good,” Fisher said. “We got a little nervous last week towards the end. We had to cut out a period because the numbers went down. To get them all back, we should be good throughout the week and for the ball game.”