Bonner purportedly bested the staff's offensive line prospects on hand, a key indicator to Kelly and his coaches that securing the pass-rusher's pledge sooner ,rather than later, would prove prudent over an arduous seven-month recruiting sprint toward Signing Day 2014.
Bonner's pledge is unique from the previous 12 in Notre Dame's class of '14 for two reasons:
- He wasn't firmly entrenched on most scouting services' radar, and
- He's the first true Big Skill profile pledge to join the fray to date.
The Irisheyes.com "Big Board" has projected three such prospects to be among what should be a 22 to 24-player addition to next year's roster. Like previous Big Skill pledges Troy Niklas in 2011 and Romeo Okwara in 2012 that inked Irish, Bonner is unlikely to begin and remain at one position.For recruitment purposes and clarity, the staff has told Bonner he'll compete at the Cat 'backer spot upon arrival. He might, but the coverage intricacies of the position have proven difficult for current NFL'er Darius Fleming and current Cat/future pro Prince Shembo, that preceded the already 250-pound Bonner.
Though not as demanding in terms of coverage responsibility as its mirror Dog or "Drop" 'backer spot that plays to the field (wide) side, the Cat/boundary 'backer still must track opposing running backs and/or in-line tight ends when the Irish defense shows a 3-4 front. That generally proves challenging for a high schooler who spent most of his formative football years bursting forward rather than retreating and turning his hips vs. the best amateur athletes in the nation.
What could work in Bonner's future favor is the likely job-share that will exist (or does exist) at most defensive front seven positions in Notre Dame's defense. That is, when Bonner is in the game, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's unit could most often show a 4-3 front, with Bonner aligned as an edge rusher, his coverage responsibilities thus lessened. (Bonner told ShowMeMizzou.com Publisher JP Rock that the Irish coaches told him he'd be rushing the passer approximately 90 percent of the time -- that indicates a rotation at his position.)
The Cat position's depth ranks among the most impressive on future Irish rosters as illustrated in the box below:
Bonner's collegiate story will be a four-to-five-year journey, and likely as a player that is evaluated at multiple positions. What he does best at present is get upfield and after the passer, a trait shared by a handful of future teammates.
With a season of high school remaining and likely a first-year in college to add strength and bulk, don't be surprised to see Bonner begin his Irish career as a defensive end in Diaco's versatile scheme -- one that could feature more 4-3 alignments out of necessity in 2014 and beyond.
Note: For previous "Recruit Fit" columns covering Notre Dame's 2014 class, click the links below:
Quenton Nelson (Nelson's review examines the position's evolution during the Kelly era as well.)