Missouri football team relies on Bonner — in any linebacker position

Tuesday, August 21, 2012 | 10:49 p.m. CDT; updated 7:11 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Junior Donovan Bonner (No. 8) does not start, but he has the ability to fill in for all three linebacker positions. "If a guy goes down or something happens, we trust each other to get the job done," Bonner said.

COLUMBIA — During an 11-on-11 session during Tuesday's Missouri football practice, running back Kendial Lawrence headed left on a running play.

As he spotted a hole, Lawrence turned upfield.

He did not make it far.

Linebacker Donovan Bonner squared him up perfectly to stop him for no gain. Bonner, a junior from Dallas, was filling in for injured linebacker Will Ebner, who plays middle linebacker, a position also called "Mike" linebacker.

During seven-on-seven drills, Bonner worked in at both outside linebacker positions. The left outside linebacker is called the "Sam," or strong-side linebacker, and the right outside linebacker is called the "Will," or weak-side linebacker.

"I've played all three positions since I've been here," Bonner said. "I started off as Will, played Sam my sophomore year, now I'm playing Mike."

Bonner said his experience allows him to fill in wherever he is needed. With Ebner, weak-side linebacker Zaviar Gooden and strong-side linebacker Andrew Wilson, the Tigers have established starters at each of the three positions, but because of injuries, Bonner has worked with the first-team defense multiple times during training camp.

Bonner said defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Dave Steckel expects all of his linebackers to be versatile.

"One thing that he says when you come in, he asks the question, 'Who are my Will linebackers?' Everybody raises their hand," Bonner said. "He says the same for Sam and Mike."

Sophomore linebacker Darvin Ruise said the versatility of the linebackers is a testament to how prepared the team is for the unexpected.

"You never know what happens in a game," Ruise said. "One of the starters can go down. You can get thrown in the fire. You have to know all three positions."

Bonner said players must dedicate themselves to learning the nuances of each spot by paying attention in meetings.

"It kind of takes a while. Linebacker is not the simplest position on defense," Bonner said.

Bonner said there is a friendly competition among all linebackers, and they understand they have to stay ready, even if they aren't starting.

"If a guy goes down or something happens, we trust each other to get the job done," Bonner said.

Bonner also said he was looking forward to the lighter, in-season practice schedule starting next week. Training camp wraps up this week with a scrimmage Thursday. Then the Tigers will have Friday off, but will practice Saturday and Sunday. Missouri plays its first game Sept. 1 against Southeastern Louisiana.

"Camp is an opportunity to get better, but after a while your body just kind of gives out. You need to freshen up for the season," Bonner said.

Wide receiver T.J. Moe should have fresh legs. He participated fully in practice for the first time in training camp Tuesday. Receiver Gahn McGaffie, who has stood out with consistently strong performances throughout training camp, moved down to working with the second-team offense.

Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.

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