Rams’ Witherspoon enjoys being a starter again

The St. Louis Rams brought back Will Witherspoon to add veteran

depth at linebacker.

He’s preparing to start – at least the first four games.

The Rams’ oldest player turned 33 Monday.

Witherspoon is set to begin his 12th season in the league.

Witherspoon got the starting job when Jo-Lonn Dunbar received a

four-game suspension to start the season. Dunbar, who had the

second-most tackles for the Rams last season, violated the league’s

policy for performance-enhancing drugs.

Dunbar can practice and play in the preseason but once the

regular season starts, he will not take part in anything team

related until after the Rams’ fourth game, which is a home game

against the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 26.

On the last day of training camp Wednesday at Rams Park,

Witherspoon said he ready to go and do what is needed.

”It’s good to be back out there on the field,” said

Witherspoon, who started just five games last season with

Tennessee. ”It’s always subject to change, right? That’s the way I

look at it. It’s a good feeling. I just have to hold up my end of

the bargain.”

Witherspoon last started for the Rams in 2009 before he was

traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for receiver Brandon Gibson. He

started his career with Carolina and then signed a free-agent deal

with St. Louis in 2006. In 11 seasons, Witherspoon has made 150

starts in 173 regular-season games.

With Dunbar going to miss the start of the season, Rams coach

Jeff Fisher plugged in Witherspoon with the first unit defense last

Saturday in a home preseason game against Green Bay.

Fisher liked what he saw from the veteran.

”Will was fine. He didn’t get a lot of snaps particularly

because of Green Bay’s personnel that they put on offense,” Fisher

said. ”We had to play a lot of nickel. He played some with the

second group. He was fine. He was active. He was where he needed to

be.”

For Witherspoon, it was important to be back out there and

adjusting to the game on the field.

”I think it was really good to get into the game speed,”

Witherspoon said. ”It definitely helps.”

When Witherspoon signed in July with St. Louis, he did not know

about Dunbar’s situation.

”It’s unfortunate,” Witherspoon said. ”It’s one we’ll all get

by. At the end of the day, we’ve all got to step our game up and

fill that void. When he gets back, it’s readjustment time. We’ll

keep rolling forward.”

Does Witherspoon have designs on playing well enough to keep the

starting job?

”I’m just happy to be back to playing,” Witherspoon said.

”You can’t say this is yours. Nothing is ever handed to you in

this game. You’ve got to earn it, keep it and go.”

NOTES: Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf, wearing a Michigan cap to

ward off the sun, watched practice while sitting in a golf cart on

the sideline. … RT Rodger Saffold practiced with the first unit

in 11-on-11 drills. Saffold dislocated his left shoulder on the

Rams’ second play in their first possession in the preseason opener

at Cleveland. … Rookie WR Tavon Austin was back at practice after

being excused for personal reasons. … RB Terrance Ganaway, a

second-year player from Baylor, told Fisher earlier in the day he

was leaving the team to pursue a graduate degree. … Camp ended

with the traditional rookie dizzy bat races that Fisher started in

Tennessee. Fisher declared RB Benny Cunningham ”pretty

impressive” as he struggled to gain his footing after spinning

around while being doused with water.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org