Changing positions helps Missouri defense get quicker

Tuesday, November 3, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA – Earlier this year, freshman Donovan Bonner and redshirt freshman Zaviar Gooden were moved to the linebacker position despite playing as safeties in high school.

That decision took on additional significance Monday, when coach Gary Pinkel announced that junior linebacker Luke Lambert will have season-ending surgery to repair his torn labrum. Lambert dislocated his shoulder Oct. 24 on the first play of the Texas game, so Bonner and Gooden are now each listed immediately behind a starting linebacker on the depth chart.

At Monday's press conference, Pinkel said he likes moving certain defensive players to different positions on the field to increase athleticism.

"For a young player (like) Zaviar, it's been really nice to see him come around," Pinkel said. "We had penciled him in as a linebacker possibly. When you recruit a kid out of high school as a safety and then move him into linebacker, or move a linebacker to defensive end, you just kind of upgrade the speed level of everybody."

Gooden had three tackles in Missouri's 36-17 win Saturday at Colorado.

Bonner, who did not play Saturday, has seven tackles this season. Pinkel said Bonner has impressive skills as well.

"We thought he looked a lot like 'Spoon (linebacker Sean Weatherspoon) athletically in high school," he said.

Pinkel said he learned about moving defenders to improve team speed when he was an assistant coach.

"It goes back to Don James when I was at Washington, watching what was happening as Nebraska beat him at that time," said Pinkel, who was a wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator when James was the head coach for the Huskies. "That's what they (the Cornhuskers) were doing. They were getting their corners and moving them to safety and safeties, moving them to linebacker; linebackers, moving them to defensive end, just to upgrade their speed."

Former Missouri defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams played linebacker in high school. Pinkel said Williams eventually worked his way to defensive end at Missouri and then inside to defensive tackle as he increased his weight. Having learned to play linebacker, he was still faster than the average player at his new position, where players are generally slower.

As Bonner and Gooden prepare to see more playing time, Pinkel said he knows they will have to adjust to their new roles.

"The position's really difficult," he said. "Toughest position on the defense to learn is linebacker. We're trying to get those backups ready because you never know what's going to happen."


  • Junior cornerback Munir Prince, who has missed the past four games, is still recovering from a hamstring injury that has bothered him in recent weeks. He is listed as probable to play Saturday against Baylor.
  • Sophomore offensive lineman Jayson Palmgren is also expected to play Saturday. Palmgren, who has a sprained ankle, has played in every game this season. Pinkel said he was wearing a protective boot Monday, but should be ready to practice by Wednesday.
  • Walk-on Gabe McCrary, a freshman defensive lineman, will have ACL surgery Friday.

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