His Kind of Guy

Notre Dame's most recent pledge to the 2014 recruiting class fits well into the Big Skill recruiting profile created by head coach Brian Kelly. But Chesterfield (Mo.) Parkway Central High defensive end Jonathan Bonner might grow into a different profile in his future head coach's three-pronged approach to roster management.

Already 6-foot-3 ½, 249 pounds, not-yet-rated defensive front seven prospect Jonathan Bonner earned a scholarship offer from the Irish earlier this week, and the free ride was extended due largely to Bonner's standout performance at Notre Dame's heavily attended camp last weekend.

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:

  1. He wasn't firmly entrenched on most scouting services' radar, and
  2. 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:

Upon Arrival

Below is a look at Notre Dame's 2014 Cat 'backers and defensive ends when Bonner hits campus next summer:

Senior Cat Ishaq Williams (2014): Prince Shembo's backup last year and again this fall, Williams is expected to play a major role in both the base and nickel/dime packages in 2013.

Junior Cat Romeo Okwara (2015): At 6'4" and nearly 260 pounds, Okwara could beef up and play defensive end in the future as well.

Sophomore/Redshirt-freshman Cat Doug Randolph (2016-17): Randolph is expected to be withheld from action this season unless he proves too valuable to keep off the specialty units.

Senior defensive end Stephon Tuitt: Tuitt could forgo his senior season and enter the 2014 NFL Draft.

Junior defensive end Sheldon Day (2015): The most important sophomore in Notre Dame's program is slated to start this fall after starring in relief as a true freshman last year.

Senior (Redshirt-junior) Tony Springmann (2015): Set to be Notre Dame's No. 4 defensive lineman this fall after playing extensively at both DE and NG as a redshirt-freshman in 2012.

Senior (Redshirt-junior) defensive end Chase Hounshell (2015/16): Should he come back from a third shoulder surgery, the player that debuted as a true freshman in 2011 could receive a fifth and sixth season of eligibility after missing all of 2012 and 2013 due to injury.

Junior (Redshirt-sophomore) Jarron Jones (2016): Expected to make his field debut this fall.

Sophomore/Redshirt-freshman Isaac Rochell (2016-17): Eligibility status pending a true freshman appearance this fall.

Sophomore/Redshirt-freshman Jacob Matuska (2016-17): Eligibility status pending a true freshman appearance this fall.

Note: Current senior Justin Utupo could apply for and be granted a 5th season of eligibility as well. Utupo will likely debut this season from scrimmage as a backup pass-rusher/defensive end after playing both of the last two seasons exclusively on special teams.

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:

The First Five Fit -- a look at pledges Greer Martini, Justin Brent, Jimmy Byrne, Jay Hayes, and Andrew Trumbetti.

Sam Mustipher

Nic Weishar

Elijah Hood

Quenton Nelson (Nelson's review examines the position's evolution during the Kelly era as well.)

Alex Bars

DeShone Kizer

Tyler Newsome

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