May 21, 2014, 1:17 AM EDT
As the Irish look for a pass rush, one candidate might be coming to campus next month. St. Louis’ Jonathan Bonner, the city’s defensive player of the year, could be an immediate answer to one of Brian VanGorder’s questions.
At 6-foot-3, 245-pounds, Bonner might have been a question mark in Bob Diaco’s system, slotting in as a cat linebacker or as an undersized end. But in VanGorder’s defense, Bonner will be free to rush the passer, an edge player with a single goal: to wreak havoc in the backfield.
Let’s take a closer look at Jon Bonner:
6’3″, 245 lbs.
Bonner’s offer list isn’t elite, but as Notre Dame’s coaches pointed out when recapping the recruiting class, there wasn’t a coaching staff in college football that saw Bonner at their camp and didn’t offer him. That was certainly the case for Notre Dame, who had Bonner at their June summer camp. Bonner dominated every offensive line prospect in town and left with an offer.
It didn’t take long for Bonner to say yes, pledging to safeties coach Bob Elliott just days later, even with Missouri and Michigan State also offering. And Bonner only looks better now in VanGorder’s system than the 3-4, the type of refined edge player that might be able to contribute this season if needed.
It’s looking more and more like the Irish found a late-bloomer in Bonner. A first-team All-Everything prospect in the state of Missouri, Bonner has a coach for a father and brings a passion to the game that’s quickly apparent when you watch his highlight tape.
At defensive end, the door is wide open for playmakers. And with the Irish coaching staff able to work eight hours a week with the roster come June, the staff will know very quickly if Bonner has what it takes to contribute.
Again, enthusiasm comes easy when it comes to incoming freshman. Finding the field is much harder. But Bonner brings a skill-set that’s needed and VanGorder has shown a willingness to embrace sub-packages and finding a way to have players take on complementary roles, something that didn’t necessarily happen with Bob Diaco.
It’s not hard to see that I’m bullish on Bonner’s future. But that’s not to say that projecting a productive career is easy. Bonner isn’t a better prospect than Anthony Rabasa, who has yet to make an impact after being evaluated and recruited by Kelly and his coaching staff. He’s not the type of recruit that Kerry Neal was either, who came into South Bend with sky high expectations and left never tallying more than two sacks in a season.
But there’s reason to believe that Bonner can be a better player than both (though the jury is still technically out on Rabasa). Bonner is a player that seems to embrace the grind, and listening to Bob Elliott talk about Bonner is the type of testimonial that gets you excited about a football player.
At defensive end, there doesn’t seem to be much certainty behind Ishaq Williams and Romeo Okwara. Is Bonner more ready to play than Isaac Rochell or Jacob Matuska. We’ll see.
But after exploding onto the scene in his senior season, Bonner could continue that ascent during summer workouts and work his way into some sub-packages starting this fall.
*Penalty, 15 yards. Out of alphabetical order. Still first down.