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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, nose tackle

Navy v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 18: Jonathan Bonner #55 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish tackles Zach Abey #9 of the Navy Midshipmen for a loss at Notre Dame Stadium on November 18, 2017 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Navy 24-17. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-3 ¾, 293 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: In his fifth year, Bonner has only 2018’s eligibility remaining, having returned unexpectedly after initialing declaring his Notre Dame career finished following last season.
Depth chart: Bonner will start at nose tackle, flipping from the three-technique position, with sophomore Kurt Hinish providing relief.
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 the Irish over offers from his homestate Missouri, Michigan State and LSU, among others.

Bonner’s career entering 2017 was one of the reasons projections of Notre Dame’s defensive front were rather pessimistic. His 14 career tackles in 22 games did not exactly sound like the makings of a starter near the ball every snap, especially for a player who spent his first collegiate season preparing for a role on the end of the line.

But Bonner rose to the occasion, making 13 starts and holding his own throughout last season, despite battling through a wrist injury for much of the season. He finished 2017 as the defense’s No. 11 tackler with 30.

2014: Preserved a year of eligibility.
2015: 10 games; five tackles, one sack.
2016: 12 games; nine tackles.
2017: 13 games, 13 starts; 30 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss with two sacks.

If completely healthy, moving Bonner to nose tackle will not spark the slightest concern. If hampered by the wrist, depending on Bonner at either interior tackle position will be a risk. Following the Blue-Gold Game on April 21, Irish head coach Brian Kelly insisted the only lingering effects of the injury — which kept Bonner out of full-contact sessions throughout all of spring practice — pertained to the strength and conditioning aspects, and Bonner would have all summer to assuage those concerns.

“He’s been [lifting] everything, but at a lighter weight,” Kelly said. “Now he’s only a couple weeks away from being full. He was already physically gifted, so we don’t think that’s going to be a big curve for him, and he’ll be able to start training aggressively when we get back here in June.”

Kelly doubled down on that prognosis Monday morning when The South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen asked at a Kelly Cares Foundation event.

“He should be full go,” Kelly said. “We were very cautious with him. I thought we could have gotten more out of him. We had kind of gone into this idea that you’re not going to get involved much in terms of contact.

“He’s excited. He’s worked really hard to put himself in this position to come back, so we’re excited about him.”

“[Bonner] 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 [Isaac] Rochell and [Jarron] 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 … one of the aforementioned freshmen. There would be value in that role.”

Last summer’s thoughts on Bonner’s long-term floor would now be a worst-case scenario dictated by his wrist and subsequent diminished conditioning. Even if he becomes Hinish’s backup this season, though, that would indeed still have value. It would also be a testament to Hinish pushing forward, now with incoming freshman Ja’Mion Franklin joining sophomore Darnell Ewell in the mix.

Kelly would assuredly rather be correct about Bonner’s timeline and instead have a solid lineman alongside senior three-technique Jerry Tillery. Flipping the two on the interior is more about putting Tillery in position to use his athleticism to make plays in the backfield, but it would have been nearly inconceivable a year ago to think Bonner could hold the point of attack as necessary at nose. When at full-strength, he genuinely can.

That may not result in many more than 30 tackles, but it would free up Tillery to rack up an influx on his 56 of a year ago.

Starting for two seasons at defensive tackle, be it as a three-technique or as a nose, for a program like Notre Dame will essentially guarantee Bonner a mini-camp chance at the next level. Just like in college football, the NFL relies on defensive linemen too much to ignore such a résumé.

A bit undersized, that path may not result in a long-term gig for Bonner, but it is more than nothing.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
No. 79 (theoretically) Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 77 (theoretically) Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 73 (theoretically) Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 (theoretically) John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically), Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer

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