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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman


Listed Measurements: 6-foot-3 ½, 284 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Senior with two years of eligibility remaining including 2017
Depth chart: Bonner entered spring practice atop the depth chart at defensive tackle alongside junior Jerry Tillery. When junior Elijah Taylor suffered a LisFranc fracture in March, Bonner’s status was solidified unless junior Micah Dew-Treadway makes unexpected progress.
Recruiting: Bonner’s recruitment jumped late in the cycle thanks to strong camp performances throughout the summer before his senior year. A three-star prospect, the St. Louis product chose Notre Dame over offers from his homestate Missouri, Michigan State and LSU, among others.

Bonner preserved a year of eligibility in 2014 before debuting as a defensive end in former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s system in 2015, even though a turf toe injury cut short his previous spring. Last year Bonner moved inside, but there he remained behind Jarron Jones, just like he was stuck behind Isaac Rochell at end.

2014: Preserved a year of eligibility
2015: 10 games, five tackles, one sack, one quarterback hurry
2016: 12 games, nine tackles, three quarterback hurries — started against Army and recorded four tackles

From the beginning of spring practice, the three-technique tackle position was an unknown rotation, but Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly always included Bonner among the grouping challenging for the starting slot, and Kelly held Bonner’s style up as the ideal fit for new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s version of the position.

“You’ll see him move around a little bit,” Kelly said the first week of March. “Bonner would be a guy that you’re looking at the three. … A bigger guy that can hold if you move him to the four. He’s got to be able to hold that shade position. … In terms of the body types, that’s the kind of guy we’re looking at.”

I think Bonner will find a niche on the inside or third downs, considering neither Jerry Tillery nor Jarron Jones look like pass rush threats. That could kick open a spot for Bonner on the inside, or it could allow him to play at the strong side if Rochell slides inside.

“Of course, that’s mostly determined by Bonner, who has flashed talent and athleticism, but hasn’t translated that to the field yet. Some think Bonner is one of the most intriguing athletes on the roster, and he’s certainly one of the team’s better workout warriors. But that needs to transition to the football field with some productivity, a key development piece for Keith Gilmore and [an] uncertain front four.

“Bonner spoke with confidence this spring that his knowledge base was now matching his skill-set. If he’s able to put everything together, he could be a very nice complementary piece to the front four.”

Later this summer, this space will rekindle its annual “Counting Down the Irish,” a ranking of the expected biggest contributors heading into 2017. It will be curious to see where Bonner lands in that polling. If Bonner makes an impact this season, that bodes very well for the Notre Dame defense. If he does not, the presumed defensive line deficiencies will be quickly realized.

Especially with Taylor’s injury, Bonner will be counted on to hold the point of attack in the middle, if not also provide some push to pressure opposing passers. If he cannot provide it, Elko does not have many other options unless Taylor’s recovery goes absolutely perfectly — and it has already been delayed by about a week — or one of the incoming freshmen proves himself surprisingly adept and ready for the physicality of the interior position at the collegiate level. (Those freshmen being Darnell Ewell, Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. Ewell, if not also Hinish, projects to fit into more of a Tillery role in the long-term.)

Bonner could be up to it. He has long been considered a physical freak of nature, displaying unexpected strength and athleticism. That played a part in his late but quick recruitment by nearly every school who saw him the summer before his senior year of high school.

Finally converting those attributes to on-field successes is the key. In Bonner’s defense, he has spent the last few seasons behind the likes of Rochell and Jones, both now working to make the cut in the NFL. Neither one was a slouch, especially as their careers progressed. Backing them up should not be considered a mark against Bonner, only an inevitability of timing.

If Bonner succeeds in his role this season, he should have an iron grip on the starting spot in 2018. Even if he doesn’t, the Irish coaching staff will likely offer him a fifth year. Veteran defensive linemen with playing experience are not commodities to let slip away. The worst-case scenario would be Bonner could spell an ascending Taylor or one of the aforementioned freshmen. There would be value in that role.

2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 73: (theoretically) Josh Lugg, offensive tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 65: (theoretically) Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard

No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship