EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Despite the claim by starting linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar that he did not use a performance-enhancing drug, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher was not so understanding when he was asked about the situation Thursday.
It was announced Wednesday that Dunbar would be suspended for the first four games of the season.
In a brief talk with the media that afternoon, Dunbar denied using a PED. He said, "First and foremost, I just want to say that I did not take a performance-enhancing drug. I mistakenly took something that prompted a failed drug test. I want to say that I sincerely apologize to my teammates, the organization, coach (Jeff) Fisher, (general manager) Les Snead, my family, and friends. I'm deeply saddened by this but I plan to serve my four-game suspension and get back to playing football as soon as possible."
When asked about the substance he "mistakenly" took, Dunbar said, "I just don't want to get into that right now. That's something we don't want to talk about; we just want to move past."
But Fisher wasn't so quick to "move past" it in his comments.
He said, "Let me say this about that situation: We've known about it for some time and obviously we've been dealing with it. 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."
Fisher also said the suspension will affect Dunbar's playing time in the remaining preseason games and added that there's no guarantee he will be the starter again when the suspension ends after the Sept. 26 game against the San Francisco 49ers.
The Rams signed linebacker Will Witherspoon July 22, and he was at Dunbar's spot with the first unit in practice Thursday.
While saying the looming suspension wasn't why Witherspoon was signed, Fisher said, "We signed Will because Will was available. It remains to be seen, whether or not we express an interest and go out and continue to look to build up that unit."
As for Dunbar, Fisher said, "He's going to get plenty of reps (in the preseason), but it's not likely he's going to be with the starting unit just because we're going to have to get Will ready to go and get familiar. We've got, for all intents and purposes, two new faces (the other is rookie Alec Ogletree) at the linebacker position this year.
"(Witherspoon) has 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."
Prior to Thursday's practice, Witherspoon said, "With everything that's going on, really it comes down to the fact that we've all got to step up. No matter where you're asked to do it, what you're asked to do, we've all got to pick up our game, we've all got to make sure we fill that hole when it happens.
"If I'm asked to step in and start, then that's what I'll do. If not, then I'm going to still be the same veteran leader that I've always wanted to be."
During his 11 NFL seasons, Witherspoon, who turns 33 on Monday, has played on the outside and in the middle. He is familiar with the defensive terminology after playing in Tennessee when Fisher was still there in 2010.
The Rams will be playing left and right outside linebackers this season rather than the traditional strong- and weak-side spots.
"It doesn't make that much difference," Witherspoon said. "They are really interchangeable."
Dunbar's absence will cost him four game checks totaling just under $306,000 of his $1.3 million base salary. In addition, he has $125,000 in likely-to-be-earned incentives in his contract along with $1 million of unlikely-to-be-earned incentives. Those all are now even more unlikely to be earned. However, the presence of Ogletree was expected to cut into Dunbar's playing time anyway, mostly on passing downs.
The latest suspension will also cost the Rams just under $102,000. The NFL fine system penalizes teams when there are multiple suspensions in a calendar year. This is the third suspension this year for Rams players.
Guard Rokevious Watkins, who was subsequently cut, and running back Isaiah Pead were each suspended for the first game of the season for violating the league program for substances of abuse.
The fine for a second suspension equals 25 percent of the money lost by the player, while a third suspension costs the team 33 percent of the lost money. If there would be a fourth suspension, the percentage increases to 50 percent.
The fine for Pead will be $8,436.56, while Dunbar's is $101,858.82 for a total of $110,295.38.