Transition man: How Quinton Dunbar turned fantasy scenario into reality and perhaps an NFL career

Not even the receiver-turned-cornerback can believe the twists and turns of his surprising rookie season.

By Dan Roth, special to Breaking Burgundy

Plot: Undrafted wide receiver receives invitation to NFL training camp. He's a long shot to make the team. The rookie switches positions to improve his chances. Now a cornerback, then an unemployed cornerback. Eventually, the team brings him back as a member of the practice squad before promoting him to the main roster. He starts in Week 12 against a division rival, say the New York Giants. He seals the win with a game, possibly season, saving interception and remains a fixture in the rotation as the team goes on to win the division title.


Even Quinton Dunbar wouldn't buy that premise at the start of training camp with the Washington Redskins. Except, that's precisely what happened during his rookie season.


“It definitely has been a long ride,” Dunbar said Monday, a day after the book closed on his rookie campaign. “I mean, I definitely wouldn’t believe that." 


But it’s not the only story the 23-year-old out of the University of Florida wants to be remembered by. Dunbar’s made great strides at his new position. Still, his future in the league remains tenuous.


“I think I improved tremendously, but I’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Dunbar said. “I’m heading to the offseason full of speed to learn the game, learn the defense, learn the [position] more.”


Dunbar made a remarkably fluid transition to corner despite the tempestuous conditions—an onslaught of injuries to Washington’s secondary that started in training camp and continued through the regular season—that necessitated the change.


A former four-star recruit at wide receiver coming out of high school, Dunbar believes “playing receiver” and “knowing receivers’ tendencies” helped him accelerate along the learning curve. His rapid progression provided reinforcement to the Redskins’ battered secondary at a critical juncture in the season, and his teammates took notice.


“Dunbar did a good job,” safety Dashon Goldson said after Sunday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, 35-18. “He’s been doing that all season for us.”


“He was waiting for his opportunity,” Goldson continued. “His opportunity came, and he took advantage of it. He’s just got to keep building off what he’s learned so far.”


Dunbar intends to do exactly that this offseason, stating that he was “very excited” for the opportunity to study the nuances of the cornerback position without having to do it on the fly. As long as he puts in the requisite work, something he proved capable of this season, there’s no reason to think he won’t keep improving. Most aspects of Dunbar’s game require fine-tuning. One area that doesn’t, however, is his mindset--the one with which he tackled the initial switch to defensive back.


“I didn’t know what to expect,” Dunbar said. “I was just up to the task. I’m a competitor, and I feel like I’m a good enough athlete to do anything. I just went over there and took it on with a full head of steam.”

Dan Roth is a freelance sportswriter and Breaking Burgundy contributor. Follow Dan on Twitter @danrothdc.

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