COLUMBIA — Cornerback Randy Ponder continued to fill in some for injured starter Kip Edwards as the Missouri football team held its last morning practice of training camp Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
As the Tigers practiced with helmets, shoulder-pads and shorts, Edwards wore a red jersey and sat out drills with a knee injury. He hopes to be back soon.
But even when Edwards does return, Ponder is still expected to get significant playing time.
Instead of always working at the outside spot opposite E.J. Gaines, Ponder also played inside at a position cornerback coach Cornell Ford describes as a "linebacker/defensive back."
"You need a guy who is an effective blitzer. He's got to be great (in) coverage, and be smart enough to do all the things that we need for him to be able to do," Ford said. "That's a critical position for us and our defense."
Ponder, a junior, is expected to do it all.
When Ponder first walked on to the Missouri football team, he was looking to earn a scholarship, and considered leaving after little progress in his first two years with the program.
Going into the spring of 2011, Ford said he thought Ponder had what it takes to contribute on defense but told Ponder he needed to show the rest of his coaches his ability.
Ponder said it was a turning point in his playing career, and he began to change his approach to, "Going hard each and every play, instead of trying to get through every play."
That spring is when Ford said Ponder improved the most. He said Ponder became a more physical player and began to make more plays at practice. The coaching staff noticed Ponder's improvement, and he moved up the depth chart.
"It's getting your hands on balls. It's making crucial tackles, might be making tackles for losses. It's great coverage on third down. It's interceptions and caused fumbles and recovered fumbles," Ford said.
Ponder made an impact last season, especially in his big game against Texas A&M where he recorded six solo tackles, a forced fumble, an interception and a pass breakup.
"Randy is one of those guys. He has it. He has it, but he has to tap into himself, and when he knows he's got it, his play speaks for itself," redshirt sophomore linebacker Darvin Ruise said. "He's just a physical player out there for his size."
Ponder, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, is known for being physical despite his small stature.
In 11-on-11 drills Friday at practice, Ponder laid a big hit on freshman running back Russell Hansbrough, knocking him back and keeping him out of the end zone on the play.
Ponder also has to take a physical approach to covering large receivers.
"Most big guys don't like guys being physical with them, so you've got to hit 'em when you've got a chance to hit 'em," Ford said. "You've got to break their hands up when you've got a chance."
Ford hopes to see increased production as Ponder gets more playing time this year.
"Make even more plays. That's the next step for him, make even more plays," Ford said. "He's been very, very effective. We need for him to continue to do that and continue to produce."