Jeff Fisher was surprisingly candid after Thursday's practice when he addressed the situation with suspended linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Fisher sounded like a man let down, as well he should be. The Rams will be without one of their most important defensive starters for the first four games of the season. The question now is whether or not Dunbar will get his starting job back and whether or not this cost him a chance of returning to the Rams after the season.
You've read Fisher's words by now, but it's worth running them again. Taken verbatim from the transcript:
First and foremost, we're very, very disappointed in his choices and his decisions. It's selfish. It hurts the team, but we also see it as an opportunity to learn from a mistake. We discussed it with the entire squad last night, and I think everybody understands the responsibilities that each and every player has as far as taking care of themselves and what you can do and what you can't do. So, we're looking at this as it's behind us, we're going to learn from a mistake.
I've never heard Fisher talk about players that way, not publicly, since he's been in St. Louis. Keeping family squabbles private is part of what makes Fisher a "player's coach." You'd have to go back to the Vince Young affair to hear him make similar, albeit stronger, comments in front of a camera.
But the most notable part was his implication that Dunbar might not get his starting job back.
It'll make total sense for us to move (LB) Will Witherspoon up - we're glad he's here. He's started a lot of games and then we'll make a decision when Jo-Lonn comes back as to who's going to take that position.
Take that with a healthy dose of skepticism. Going from Dunbar to Witherspoon represents a pretty big drop off in the level of play the Rams would get at outside linebacker. Unless one of the younger players on the roster steps up between now and Week 4, it's a good bet that putting his best 11 players on the field will be a nice salve for the sting of Dunbar's suspension.
Beyond 2013, Dunbar's future with the team is up in the air.
The Rams signed him to a two-year deal last year. He out-performed, by a long shot, any of his previous seasons with the Saints. How much of that is credit to the Rams coaches? A better defense around him? or PEDs? Probably a combination of all those things.
Whether or not the Rams planned on bringing him back after this year was already in question after the team used a first-round pick this year on another outside linebacker, Alec Ogletree.
With what's expected to be a relatively flat cap in 2014, there may not have been room for Dunbar in the first place, especially if he posted another season like last year. Then again, if he's as essential to the defense this year as he was last year, even in just 12 games, it could be a real hit for the Rams defense to lose him, a la William Hayes. That all could hinge on how Fisher feels about the situation come spring.