BY JIM THOMAS
Saturday, April 21, 2012

Defensive coordinator-in-exile Gregg Williams received his indefinite suspension from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell nearly two weeks before linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar signed his two-year contract with the Rams.

So it wasn't as if Dunbar was following Williams from New Orleans to St. Louis. But he did follow Williams' son — Blake — up the Mississippi River.

"My connection with Blake Williams is one of the things that got me up here," Dunbar said. "Blake's a good guy. I know some of the system things that they're gonna run. It was the best opportunity for me to get into a position to play and be able to start and make an impact on a defense."

Blake Williams was assistant linebackers coach in New Orleans; he's now the head linebackers coach with the Rams.

Although not expansive on the subject, Dunbar had only good things to say about Gregg Williams, who will miss at least the 2012 season for his role as ringleader of the Saints' pay-for-performance system on defense.

"Gregg's a great guy," Dunbar said. "A really good person on the field, off the field."

When asked whether he was surprised at the severity of Williams' punishment, Dunbar again didn't have much to say.

"That's not something I can handle," Dunbar said. "Goodell thought that was the punishment that was needed for that, and I respect that."

According to a league report on the "Bountygate" scandal, about two dozen Saints defensive players took part in the bounty system during Williams' three seasons with the Saints — 2009-11. Was Dunbar one of players involved?

"I was a young cat," Dunbar said. "I had nothing to do with that."

Dunbar came across as someone who just wants the topic to go away. The same could be said for his new coach in St. Louis — Jeff Fisher.

When asked whether there was any chance Dunbar could face "Bountygate" discipline at the start of the 2012 season, Fisher said: "I've not had any discussion along those lines, no. I'm just waiting for some direction from the league office, and it makes it no sense to call them to ask.

"But he's a very, very good young man, and a very talented player. So we'll just wait and see what happens."

There has been media speculation recently that Goodell will hand out player penalties next week. If that's the case, Goodell probably will do so early next week because the draft starts Thursday, and the league doesn't want anything to pull attention away from the draft.

Before the Rams signed Dunbar to a two-year contract, they had only three linebackers on the roster: stalwart James Laurinaitis in the middle, and backups Josh Hull and Justin Cole.

Dunbar figures to start at one of the outside linebacker positions. A spot starter his first three seasons with New Orleans as an undrafted rookie from Boston College, the Syracuse native wasn't even tendered as a restricted free agent a year ago. He was re-signed, however, in August and enjoyed a breakout season with 90 tackles, one sack, seven pass breakups and two forced fumbles. After starting a combined 13 games during his first three seasons, he started 14 times last season alone. Most of those starting assignments came at strongside linebacker; some came in the middle replacing the injured Jonathan Vilma.

Even without Gregg Williams running the defense, the Rams are using the same scheme, so Dunbar knows it well.

"He played very well in the system and he's played all three positions in the system," Fisher said. "So that gives us flexibility there. We can plug him wherever. And right now, he's an asset as the defense goes in because he has a good understanding of it."

Dunbar, 6-0, 226, feels most comfortable, and sounds like he prefers playing, the middle linebacker spot. But that's probably not going to happen with the Rams as long as Laurinatis is around.

"I'm just here to play ball," Dunbar said. "Whatever they need me to do, I'm ready to do. I'm familiar with all three linebacker positions; I understand my reads in those three linebacker positions. So I'm ready to do whatever Coach Fisher wants me to do here."