Thursday, April 15, 2010

Saints Nation: Is Jo-Lonn Dunbar the Man to Replace Fujita?

Unless the Saints draft someone early in the first round at linebacker, which is admittedly what most experts see them doing, young linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar seems most likely to get the first crack at replacing Scott Fujita in the starting lineup. The Saints also have last year's rookies Jonathan Casillas and Stanley Arnoux in the mix, and either could potentially make a case for increased playing time as well. Still, while Casillas showed some promise last year he's very raw as an undrafted rookie a year ago; and while the Saints invested a high pick in Arnoux, he spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve. That leaves Dunbar as the most viable candidate, currently, to earn a starting spot alongside Scott Shanle and Jonathan Vilma in the Saints' linebacking core. Dunbar played 15 games in his rookie season (2 starts) and 9 games last year (3 starts) before he was placed on injured reserve with hamstring problems. Still, in his starts he's shown some promise.

Let's take a look back at the player rating write ups I did for him last season:

AT DOLPHINS: Jo-Lonn Dunbar: C+ Dunbar was subbed in often for Evans in the second half and did some nice things, especially in pass coverage. On Ronnie Brown's pass to Fasano he laid a nice hit to make sure the ball fell incomplete once Fasano bobbled it. He had 2 tackles as well, and I'm thinking he might be a better option than Evans if Fujita needs to miss another game. Ultimately Dunbar didn't play enough or do enough to earn a better grade.

VS. FALCONS: Jo-Lonn Dunbar: B- Dunbar was great at times, and mediocre at others. He was extremely aggressive against the run and very active. Sometimes it got him in trouble, and other times he made good plays. He finished with 4 tackles. If Fujita misses another game, I think I prefer Dunbar over Evans at linebacker. He may make some mistakes due to lack of experience, but his hustle and fierce effort is refreshing. Evans may contain better, but he just doesn't have the athleticism or skill of Dunbar.

VS. PANTHERS: Jo-Lonn Dunbar: B+ Do we even let Fujita start when he's healthy? Seriously, this young linebacker is just getting better and better! Dunbar is terrific against the run, and VERY physical. The only drawback is he's very aggressive so he sometimes contains poorly and lacks discipline. Those are things, by the way, what Fujita excels at. He had 8 tackles and played a very good game. I'm glad the Saints decided Dunbar was a better option than Troy Evans. Physically there is just a huge difference between the two. I think Dunbar could be a viable starter for the Saints in the future.

AT BUCCANEERS: Jo-Lonn Dunbar: C+ Dunbar finished with 3 tackles and played in spot duty late in the game at linebacker. He was aggressive and did ok. He over-pursued twice but with the game so far out of reach it's hard to grade him. I'll give him some love for doing a great job on special teams, though.

The write ups make it pretty clear I like him better than Troy Evans, I guess, right? The common denominator in all of these was that Dunbar was fast, had a high motor, and a boatload of aggression. All very positive things you want out of a promising young outside linebacker. His drawbacks are that he lacks good containment and he over-pursues plays because he's so aggressive. I believe those are things Gregg Williams can perfect. So while many of you are calling for a linebacker to be picked 32nd overall, don't be surprised if the Saints go in a different direction and put their faith in the promise of Jo-Lonn Dunbar.