After being buried on the safety depth chart, junior John Turner became one of the talks of spring practice when he moved from forgotten man to a potential starter at outside linebacker. A jumbo-sized safety unable to get on the field under Bob Diaco, Turner exited spring practice as the starter at sam linebacker.
While Turner may have lost the starting job to sophomore James Onwualu, he’s still capable of supplying key depth at a position that relies on a blend of speed and physicality. An Indianapolis product who earned his way onto the roster by performing well at Notre Dame’s summer camp, Turner reclaimed his career as the Irish system changed under Brian VanGorder.
Let’s take a closer look at the in-state product.
6’0.5″ 225 lbs.
Junior, No. 31
Turner had mostly a regional offer from colleges, deciding between MAC offers, in-state Indiana and Minnesota before the Irish coaching staff offered him after he ran a 4.5 forty at Notre Dame’s summer camp. From there, Turner didn’t wait long, pledging to the Irish and shutting it down.
Kelly talked about Turner on Signing Day, applauding his fit after playing for the state champ’s at Cathedral, taking a page out of the RKG manual.
“If there is a current theme in terms of the kids and what we’re looking for, for them to be the right fit here at Notre Dame, John is certainly that,” Kelly said. “Now there is more to it than that, you have to be a really good football player, too, and we got a chance to spend time with John. He was here on campus, we really loved him in person and in personal workouts, and he carried that on to the field.”
Freshman Season (2012): Did not see action.
Sophomore Season (2013): Played in 13 games, mostly on special teams. Made four tackles on the season, including two against Navy.
What a difference a system makes. For Turner, he went from forgotten man to a fringe starter. Of course, he’s already lost the job to Onwualu, a converted wide receiver that spent the first half of spring playing safety. But Turner looks like a guy that VanGorder can get something out of, and that’s more than what we could say under Diaco.
Ultimately, Turner looks the part of a hybrid safety-linebacker, and at 225 pounds he’s got the physicality to play in the box or in space. But entering his third year in the Irish program, we’ll see if his modest offers end up an indicator to his talent level or if Kelly and company unearthed another diamond.
Kelly and his staff evaluate players by a variety of metrics. Championship player, winning player, replacement-level player and down the line. Turner likely slots in at that winning player level, capable of helping the Irish win, but still a rung or two short of being a starter on a playoff contending team.
But as the Irish begin to recruit to VanGorder’s profile, being on the radar isn’t enough. Turner needs to step his game up or risk being passed by a younger generation hand-picked by his defensive coordinator’s evaluation tools.
Yet if you want an optimistic take on Turner’s ability to help the Irish, consider his pedigree. That RKG background, developed as a state champion at a Catholic school in state, will help him become the type of program player that Kelly can feel safe building around.
In 2014, Turner will be an important piece of the puzzle, especially as Onwualu learns on the fly and Councell returns from an ACL injury. Moving forward, he’ll be challenged, and we’ll ultimately see if Turner thrives or moves to the background.
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Torii Hunter Jr.