Prior to making his second NFL start as a rookie linebacker, Jo-Lonn Dunbar talked to Scout.com's Ed Thompson about his NFL debut against the Redskins, his upcoming matchup with the Denver Broncos, and his rookie experience to date with the New Orleans Saints.
With only a few days of preparation prior to his first start at strong-side linebacker against Washington, the former Boston College middle linebacker showed well in his debut, logging six tackles (three solo) and a pair of defensed passes. You can read more about his debut, including more exclusive quotes, in this column at Scout.com.
Ed Thompson: Talk about your role as the strong-side linebacker in the Saints' defensive scheme and how difficult it was to make the transition to that position.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar: I was playing weak-side backer until the Washington game week, so I was very unfamiliar with what the SAM linebacker actually does. But the SAM linebacker guards a lot of the field, and you play the back side of a lot of the runs, so it's a lot of pursuit and it gives you a lot of opportunities to make plays. If you're running to the ball and you're precise with your reads, you can make a lot of plays at that position. I think that's how I got most of my tackles was by being able to tackle well in space and overrun some formations and get my hat on the ball.
Thompson: Why do you think the team saw you as a good fit for strong-side after Scott Fujita's injury, especially when you hadn't taken any reps there during training camp?
Dunbar: I'm not sure. As a rookie, you just do as you're told and you figure it out trying to use the tools that you have and prepare the best you can. I just stepped up to the plate, saw it as an opportunity and worked my tail off to put myself in the best possible position.
Thompson: Speaking of summer camp, what was that experience like for you?
Dunbar: [laughing] Oh my gosh, summer camp? The whole experience has been overwhelming, it's a lot different from college ball. It's very intense and you can tell it just means a lot to everyone. The differences are night and day to me. Just being around these guys and trying to be a pro, that's one of things I'm trying to embrace at the moment. I'm just trying to learn from these guys how to be a professional and approach the game in the right manner and a respectful manner.
Thompson: You had a strong preseason, yet you were initially cut when the team trimmed the roster to the final 53 players. How did you deal with that moment after working so hard for all of those months?
Dunbar: I was brought into Coach Payton's office and he told me that he was going to put me on the practice squad, but he told me how much they really liked me. He basically said that I had made it a very hard decision for them. He told me that he had appreciated all that I did during the months I had been there and that he was willing to give me an opportunity to stay with this team and to continue my growth with the Saints. I looked at it as a great opportunity, and I respect Coach Payton, so I stayed here and obviously it's worked out in my favor.
Thompson: Last weekend your team suffered a tough loss to the Redskins in the closing moments of the game. What did you learn about your team as you look back on that game?
Dunbar: It was definitely a tough loss, but we fought through the whole game. It was one of those games where you really didn't know what was going to happen, where one play or another could just break it wide open — and that's basically what happened. But I saw a lot of fight in this team, especially on defense.
Thompson: Your defense is squaring off against the league's top-scoring offense this week when you play line up against the Denver Broncos. What have you noticed about their quarterback, Jay Cutler, as you watched film this week?
Dunbar: He's working well under pressure when guys are trying to get pressure on him. He's got a big-time arm and he's making good, accurate throws. I think the chemistry that he and his wide receivers have is second-to-none in the NFL right now.
Thompson: You'll also be working against a familiar foe, former ACC and Virginia Tech wide receiver Eddie Royal, who's also off to a strong start as an NFL rookie.
Dunbar: I played against Eddie while we were both in college, and I've always known he has breakout talent. He's a fast guy, a quick guy with soft hands. He can hurt you receiving the ball, running the ball, on punt returns, kickoff returns — so he's a dangerous guy. It's one of those things where you have to go out there and try to contain him, play some good defense against him and his offense. We're not actually friends, but we know each other and we talk to each other whenever we see each other. He's a great guy and I have a lot of respect for his talent.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.