If Sean Weatherspoon went down with an injury sometime this season, the player that would take over the starting role (as the depth chart sits now) would be a player that seems to be on the same career path as the All-Big XII linebacker. That player is freshman linebacker, Donovan Bonner, a 2-star recruit from Texas that slipped through the cracks but could end up being a diamond in the rough. Does that story sound eerily familiar? How did Bonner earn a spot on the second string this summer? Let's take a look on how Bonner fits in to Mizzou's plans this season and beyond.
The 6-2, 230-pound Bonner was recruited to Missouri as a safety because that was the position he played in high school, but the Mizzou coaches obviously thought he was big enough to play linebacker and made the switch sometime this summer. During his time at Dallas Lincoln High School, Bonner showed that he had the qualities of a linebacker (good tackling ability, mid-range speed and superior strength), but he never played the position until he got to Mizzou. The fact that Bonner is already impressing coaches enough to be on the second team defense shows that he is a determined, intelligent and talented player.
The following Gary Pinkel quote (from a Columbia Missourian article written by Sam Wilson) tells you everything that you need to know about how Bonner is impressing the Mizzou coaching staff this summer.
"A very physical guy, a very talented guy, athletically very similar to ‘Spoon as a freshman," coach Gary Pinkel said.
When you are compared physically to a player who is considered one of the top linebackers in the entire country, you must be doing something right, especially as a true freshman. Bonner's quick rise up the defensive depth chart shows that he is acclimating himself to the new position well enough to be trusted to back up the most important defensive player on the team. Bonner still has room in his 6-2 frame to add weight, so he will continue to grow as a player as he continues to grow physically. His nose for the ball (91 tackles, 23 pass breakups and 7 interceptions in his high school senior year) is a great attribute to have as an outside linebacker and will be a welcome addition to the Tigers defense for the next 4 years.
Bonner's significant improvement in a single summer should provide Mizzou fans with the hope that he can continue to follow the same path as Weatherspoon and end up as an All-Big XII linebacker. If Bonner sees the field this year, it will most likely be in junk time or on special teams, but that time will still be very valuable for the new linebacker because of his inexperience. Coach Pinkel has already said that Bonner will not be redshirted, so expect to see #8 on the defensive or special teams side of the ball making some plays. After Weatherspoon departs to the NFL in April, expect Bonner to put up a big fight to start on the outside as a sophomore next season.
Check out Bonner (as a safety) for yourself: here