ND A-to-Z: Jonathan Bonner

Notre Dame sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bonner looks to overcome a late-spring surgery to make his mark as a backup “Big End” this fall. Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z roster rundown continues with the promising second-year lineman.

Labeled a sleeper during the 2013 recruiting process, prep defensive end/tight end prospect Jonathan Bonner grew into a new role by the outset of his first collegiate training camp last August.

Reporting at nearly 270 pounds, the purported speed rusher was immediately re-slotted as a backup “three-technique” tackle and thus given the opportunity to be mentored by one of the program’s best, co-captain Sheldon Day, during what became a redshirt rookie season.

Eight months later, Bonner now suffers from the dreaded stubbed toe syndrome – literally – as turf toe surgery truncated what was previously a promising spring session.

After a summer of rehab and recovery, Bonner works his way through the initial portion of August camp and reclaims his pre-injury role as the line’s top backup at Big End behind junior starter Isaac Rochell. At worst -- or perhaps at best in terms of the long-term health and production of the 2015 defense – a healthy Bonner could share backup reps with classmate Grant Blankenship, the rangy edge player that earned playing time up front as a true freshman last fall.

Bonner fails to distinguish himself in August and thus cedes September playing time to Blankenship. The latter then capitalizes on the opportunity and Bonner is lost in the shuffle, somewhat slowing his progress entering 2016, his third season at the program. Among Notre Dame’s top six defensive end prospects, only one, Romeo Okwara, exhausts his eligibility at the conclusion of 2015.

A prep tight end/edge-rusher prospect-turned true defensive end elicits one name from Notre Dame’s recent past: late-bloomer Karmeeleyah McGill. The difference between Bonner and McGill is that the latter found the field as a special teamer as a true freshman – one of a remarkable 18 rookies to earn a monogram in 1989 – before seeing his career take off late in his junior season punctuated by a stat-stuffing effort (6 tackles, 2 sacks, PD) vs. Florida en route to a 39-28 Irish victory in the Sugar Bowl.

With his entire career in front of him, a more recent prospect comparison for Bonner would be Jerome Collins (2000-2004). Collins sat out his freshman season while transitioning from prep WR/TE to 3-4 outside linebacker (rush end) for the Bob Davie-led Irish. He played 24 games over the next three seasons as a six-foot-four, 260-pound pass-rusher before moving back to tight end as a fifth-year senior, thereafter being tabbed in the fifth round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams – 25 minutes from Bonner’s hometown of Chesterfield, Mo.

The late-career arc of McGill seems more likely, not to mention one to shoot for by the young Bonner.

A three-star prospect per Scout.com, Bonner’s freshman season was commensurate with early-career projections. Bonner was first expected to challenge for a pass-rushing role in Notre Dame’s dime package claimed instead by classmate Kolin Hill in September.

He then was deemed a tick below fellow freshman Jay Hayes in the November pecking order when the latter was called upon following a rash of injuries to lend aid up front.

Bonner preserved a season of eligibility as a result.

“A guy that has come on in the last three days is Jonathan Bonner. His traits are significantly different than anything else we have in the defensive line -- vertical jump is in the mid-30s, strength is off the charts. If you look at his traits, they match up in NFL combine numbers; they match up with elite players. Jonathan was way behind in the football intelligence and understanding the position. He's catching up…

“He could be that guy that could turn the edge for us and give us the speed we're looking for.” – Irish head coach Brian Kelly one week prior to Bonner’s toe injury and subsequent surgery.


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