METAIRIE — There’s no doubt that any young, aspiring NFL player has heard the phrase “the more you can do” more times than he cares to admit when he comes into the league.
In other words, being a jack-of-all-trades is better than being a master of none.
For New Orleans Saints linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, the phrase never had greater meaning than it has this training camp for the four-year veteran from Boston College.
After three years of bouncing back and forth, mostly between the weak and strong sides, Dunbar is back home in the middle — where he spent his entire four-year college career.
Which is why Dunbar is excited about the Saints exhibition opener at 7 p.m. Friday against the San Francisco 49ers in the Superdome. Because the Saints didn’t have a scrimmage last weekend, Dunbar will see his first real playing time at the position for the first time since his rookie season in 2008.
Even that’s a distant memory for Dunbar, who didn’t get a lot of repetitions because he was an undrafted free agent and had to wait for his chance.
But he should get plenty of playing time against the 49ers considering starter Jonathan Vilma, a two-time Pro Bowl pick, will likely play no more than two or three series.
“I’m definitely excited about it,” a smiling Dunbar said. “I’m sure that Jonathan isn’t going to play a lot, so I’m excited about getting in there. I want to knock the rust off and actually play in a game for a while.”
Actually, the wait to knock the rust off was a long time coming for the entire team. Because of a lockout that dragged on for 4? months, there were no minicamps or organized team activities to get ready for football.
“This game is going to be like a coming-out party for all of us, in a sense,” said Dunbar. “But it’s definitely a coming-out party for me coming back from outside ’backer to the inside.”
It’s where the 6-foot, 226-pound Dunbar thought he was going to be from the outset of his pro career.
But after being waived on the final cut, he was signed to the practice squad and one week later was throw into the starting lineup when strongside linebacker Scott Fujita was injured in the season opener.
When the Saints were a little thin on the weak side in 2009, Dunbar started three games when Scott Shanle was hurt —only to have his season end in December because of a severe hamstring injury.
Then, last summer, it was back to the strong side. Dunbar was given an opportunity to compete for the starting job. He did make six starts, but only after a season-ending injury to Jonathan Casillas.
So it’s easy to see why he was so eager to work behind Vilma.
“I’ll do whatever they ask me to do around here,” Dunbar said. “I’ve been here for three years and I know all three positions. So whatever they ask me to do, I’ll do.”
That versatility is important to the Saints coaching staff, who know he can fill in anywhere after making eight starts at strong and five at weak.
But Dunbar said he feels much more at home in the middle.
“Definitely, I feel more comfortable there,” he said. “I actually like being in control, calling the defense, setting the defense, changing blitzes, running blitzes — whatever we’re doing whatever we have in our system.
“I like doing it and being a part of it. So that’s a new thing for me now, basically getting everybody set up and running the show. I’m enjoying it and I’m having fun with it.”
There’s only one down side to it — and that’s having to play behind Vilma, who rarely leaves the field during regular-season games.
“It’s kind of a downer because you play behind Jonathan,” said Dunbar, who spent much of the offseason studying and training with Vilma and tight end Jimmy Graham at the University of Miami. “But it’s actually fun to play.
“Just being here and having the opportunity to play now is a fun thing.”
The middle certainly suits him better, Dunbar said.
“I think it’s good for my stature to be honest with you,” he said. “I’m not really one of those big guys that can handle those big offensive linemen at the point of attack. I can make do when I come in and get at you, but I’m better suited back there running the show.”