Reviewing the Redshirts is an off-season series meant to resurrect discussion around the current Irish freshmen who did not play in 2014.
There were 11 players this past year who retained a year of eligibility and today we take a look at an edge rushing linebacker trying to transition into an interior tackle.
DT, Jonathan Bonner
Hometown: Chesterfield, Missouri
247Sports COMPOSITE RANKING:
3-star, No. 26 SDE, No. 11 MO, No. 602 USA, 0.860 Score
Need at Position: Medium-to-High
Expected Spot on 2015 Depth Chart: 3rd String
You might be asking yourself, "Hey, I thought Bonner was a defensive end recruit and don't we have a big need at defensive end? Why are you listing him as a defensive tackle?"
First, let me paste in my thoughts about Bonner post-National Signing Day last year.
Good but not great burst off the line. Looks reasonably athletic in the open field. I'm skeptical of his ability to play defensive end at Notre Dame mostly due to his height. He looks closer to 6-2 to me than 6-4 and a lot more built like Prince Shembo but with room to add a lot more weight. Bonner does a lot of little things that I like (uses his hands really well in particular) and it's heartening that he really impressed the staff in person when he camped. I still think he's a project that's going to need some time to develop and might grow into an interior lineman by the time he sees steady minutes.
As long as Notre Dame remains in a 4-3 I'm not sure Bonner has the length and lean body to play defensive end. His listed height did get bumped down an inch to 6-3 which isn't necessarily a deal break on edge capabilities. However, Bonner came in as a true freshman listed at 269 pounds and always looked like someone who was going to put on significant weight in college. If he's going to stay at defensive end keep in mind that Bonner is already 18 pounds heavier than Trumbetti, 17 pounds heavier than Blankenship, 17 pounds heavier than Jhonny Williams, and 39 pounds heavier than Hill. Those are the end prospect in his class, so he's shorter (with the exception of Hill) than and considerably heavier than everyone.
It's quite possible that Bonner is a swing guy on the line who can play both in the interior and at end. This time last year there was a lot of talk about him offering that type of flexibility similar to what we eventually saw from Isaac Rochell in 2014. But again, while Rochell may weigh 18 more pounds a year ahead in his physical development he's also at least an inch taller than Bonner (maybe more, IMO) and offers better length on the edge.
While there are concerns at defensive end those are more an issue of productivity versus a lack of bodies or experience. I already mentioned Bonner having four classmates at end with three of them already adding experience as true freshmen. Now add in nominal starter Romeo Okwara, Rochell eating some snaps, and the possible return of Ishaq Williams. It's not an overwhelming amount of bodies but it's not going to be easy to log a lot of minutes at end without a breakout off-season.
Now, let's assume that Bonner conservatively puts on another 6 pounds from August 2014 until the start of spring practice in a couple weeks. That would put him at 275 pounds and almost ideal weight to play 3-tech defensive tackle. It's certainly not outlandish to think that by fall practice Bonner will be checking in at 280 pounds or more.
So who else on the roster plays 3-tech? Of course, Sheldon Day is the starter but after that it looks like Jay Hayes is the heir apparent. And it just so happens that Hayes and Bonner are nearly the same size! This is why I think Bonner's future is on the interior.
It should be noted that during Brian Kelly's press conference last February to introduce the 2014 recruiting class he mentioned Bonner as being an "outside player for us, an edge player, rush player, a guy that gets after the quarterback." Yet, in the middle of fall camp last year Bonner made it as high as the two-deep at the 3-tech spot before the staff decided to go with 5th-year senior Justin Utupo as the backup. Since then, we haven't heard much from Bonner.
Right now my best guess is that Notre Dame goes with a lineup of Day-Hayes-Bonner as the gap slicing, penetrating tackles. Since Hayes' redshirt was burned very late in 2014 and he wasn't able to get many snaps the battle with Bonner might be a fun one to watch before and during the upcoming season.