ST. LOUIS — The NFL has suspended St. Louis Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar for the first four games of the 2013 season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
During a brief press conference after a special teams practice that was closed to the general public on Wednesday, Dunbar denied purposely taking a performance-enhancing drug.
"First and foremost, I just want to say that I did not take a performance-enhancing drug,'' Dunbar said. "I mistakenly took something that prompted a failed drug test. I want to say that I sincerely apologize to my teammates, the organization and Coach (Jeff) Fisher and (General Manager) Les Snead and my family and friends. I am deeply saddened by this, but I plan to serve my four-game suspension and get back to playing football as soon as possible.''
Asked what was the substance that caused the failed drug test, Dunbar said, "I just don't want to get into that right now. That's something, we don't want to talk about it, we just want to move past.''
With Dunbar starting to choke up, the Rams' media relations department quickly ended the press conference.
Dunbar, 28, started all 16 games last season for the Rams. He was second on the team in tackles with a career-high 157.
Dunbar also had 4.5 sacks, forced two fumbles and recorded his first two career inteceptions.
Dunbar is entering a second year of the two-year, $3.05 million contract that he signed with the Rams as a free agent from the New Orlans Saints in April, 2012.
Dunbar is elibilble to participate in all preseason practices and games.
He'll miss the Rams' first four regular season games, becoming eligible to return to the active roster on Sept. 27 after the team's Thursday night contest against San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 26.
In Will Witherspoon, the Rams have a viable backup plan in place at right-side linebacker during Dunbar's absence.
"You always feel bad any time a guy's going to miss any particular part of the season," Witherspoon said of Dunbar. "But we're all gonna support him, we're all gonna sit there and say, 'Hey, as soon as you get back, let's get back to rolling and go forward with what we know we can do.' "
Witherspoon is entering his 12th NFL season, making him the most veteran player on the Rams' roster.
"We've all got to step up,'' Witherspoon said. "No matter where you are asked to do, what you are asked to do, we've all got to pick up our game, we all have to make sure we fill that hole when it happens. If I am asked to step up and start, then that's what I'll do. If not, I am going to be the same veteran leader that I am always going to be.''
Witherspoon is serving his second stint with the Rams. He was with the Rams from 2006-09.
Witherspoon was traded to Philadelphia Eagles for wide receiver Brandon Gibson and a fifth-round pick in October, 2009. He spent the last three seasons with the Tennessee Titans.
Dunbar is second Rams player who will miss the start of the season after being suspended by the NFL. Running back Isaiah Pead will sit out the Rams' season opener against the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 8 for violating the league's policy on substance abuse.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.