COLUMBIA — It’s a good thing Missouri linebacker Donovan Bonner is used to adjusting on the fly.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Last season, Bonner served as the top backup at Missouri’s “Mike” and “Will” linebacker positions behind senior starters Will Ebner and Zaviar Gooden. Both were often hurt, so Bonner always had to be ready to play.
Take the Vanderbilt game last October. One minute, Bonner thought Ebner was going to play through a hamstring injury. Then, shortly before the game started, Bonner noticed something strange.
“I walked back out and he had on street clothes,” Bonner said with a laugh. “So I already knew what time it was.”
Similarly, Bonner now understands that it’s time for him to take the next step. With senior linebacker and captain Andrew Wilson moving to an inside position, Bonner is being counted on to be a full-time starter after a junior campaign in which he finished with 39 tackles, four forced fumbles and an interception.
“He’s played off and on quite a bit, now he’s got a chance to start and play more,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “Quite frankly, I always thought he should have been playing a little bit more. And I love him, but maybe hasn’t played up to what I thought his ability was. He’s a great kid who works hard and we need him to play at a high level.”
To do that, Bonner must first make the adjustment to the “Sam” — or strong-side linebacker — position, which calls for strong tackling and less coverage responsibility than he had in the middle or on the weak side.
“You’ve got to make sure tackles at ‘Sam,’” Bonner said.
Defensive coordinator Dave Steckel said Bonner, who is listed at 6 feet 1 and 245 pounds, has plenty to work on to get ready for the season.
”He’s got to get better at his fundamentals and being at the right place at right time and he’s also got to drop some weight,” said Steckel, who wants Bonner at 240 pounds. “I think once he gets his body weight under control, it’s going to help his movement and change of direction.
“It’s his fifth year now. He knows where to be and what he’s supposed to do, so now he just has to execute it.”
To his credit, Bonner seems to understand the stakes, and is confident he'll trim down in time for the season.
“I’ve got to get myself in shape,” said Bonner, who said he currently checks in between 245 and 250 pounds. “It’s not like I’m going in there sparingly for a few plays and coming back out. I’ve got to get myself in shape. I’ve got to get in film study more, get a little more serious with that and do the little things.
“I’ve got to step up to the table. It’s now or never, really.”