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Notre Dame Football

Scouting the Roster: Jonathan Bonner

June 5, 2017

Player name: Jonathan Bonner

Player position: Defensive tackle (3 technique)

Years of eligibility left: 2

Projected rank on the depth chart: Starter

Player productivity so far:

2016: 7 tackles 3 QB hurries 1 forced fumble (unofficially CFB Film Room had Bonner down for 7 hurries)

2015: 4 tackles 1 QB hurry

What player does best: Bonner was is entering his fourth year and has had an evolution since he landed his offer back at a camp before his senior season. Previously an edge player, he has transitioned into a 3 technique although he may be a bit undersized for the position. Like most smaller interior lineman, he relies on quickness and he certainly shows some explosiveness with his first step. He has quick feet and quick hands and plays with good pad level.

He’s a much better player when asked to shoot gaps and move laterally to get into the backfield, which makes him a good fit for some of the things Mike Elko wants to do on defense. His production has not been there as rotational player, but his opportunities to make plays are going to increase exponentially this season.

He showed significant growth as a pass rusher this spring and even had some points in one on ones where he was borderline unblockable. He flashed some violent hands in those instances.

What player needs to work on: The biggest thing with Bonner is how he will hold up versus the run. When he is single blocked he does a decent job of controlling his gap, but I watched him get blown off the ball a couple of times when he was forced to take on the double from the tackle and guard. The Irish need him to be stouter at the point of attack.

I mentioned the growth as a pass rusher, but we didn’t see enough of an impact from him when they went 11 on 11 and haven’t seen much when he received opportunities in games other than when he generated pressure on a few occasions. He needs to finish at the quarterback and finish better, period.

It was a positive sign to see Bonner in the backfield disrupting some plays last season, but he those disruptions need to turn into tackles for loss. He had 4 missed tackles according to CFB Film Room and that’s really poor when you consider he had only 7 total tackles.

Productivity of former ND players and top players in the nation at his position:

Sheldon Day 2014: 40 tackles 7.5 TFL 1 sack 2 PBU 9 QB hurries

Sheldon Day 2015: 40 tackles 7.5 TFL 4 sacks 4 PBU 13 QB hurries 2 forced fumbles

Carlos Watkins Clemson: 50 tackles 13.5 TFL 10.5 sacks 4 PBU 4 QB hurries 1 blocked kick

Woody Baron Virginia Tech: 56 tackles 18.5 TFL 5.5 sacks 5 QB hurries

Ed Oliver Houston: 66 tackles 22.5 TFL 5 sacks 9 PBU 7 QB hurries 3 forced fumbles

What can we hope for? It might be a lot to ask a first time starter to emerge as a difference maker, but the scheme and Bonner’s athletic traits suggest he is capable of making a serious leap into at least being a vital contributor.

He’s no longer a rotational player anymore. He’s a starter so he’s going to be on the field much more this season. We can hope that there is improvement at the point of attack versus the run, but that he is utilized as someone that is shooting gaps more often than not. He can beat slower footed guards off the ball get into the backfield to make some plays there.

Anywhere from 7-10 TFLs and 4-6 sacks would be a great season for Bonner given his little production up to this point. Notre Dame needs an interior pass rushing presence to stop opposing quarterbacks from stepping up in the pocket. Hopefully he can provide that.

What is a realistic expectation? Realistically we’re going to see Bonner play about 50 snaps a game at three technique and also play some end when Elko plays a 30 front. I think he can hold his own against most opponents, but will likely struggle if he has to go up against an elite guard in the run game. USC and Stanford and how they have their lines set up are the likely games which will reveal if Bonner is average as 3 technique or rising above that.

I don’t think it’s taken for granted anymore just how good Sheldon Day was for the Irish in 2015. Bonner is not Day and it would be unrealistic to think he will have the kind of production that Day had even in what should be a better defense. However, he could reach a level close to that. Just maybe not this year.

There is an outside shot that a healthy Elijah Taylor will push Bonner this summer and the starting job may not be locked down the entire season. Taylor may not have played as much, but he had more havoc production in the USC game than Bonner has had in two plus seasons.

What about the future? Bonner has been around for so long that it’s easy to forget that he still has another year or eligibility after this one. At this point given the situation at defensive tackle, it would be surprising if he didn’t earn a 5th year in 2018.

An ideal situation would be for Bonner to show big improvement in ‘17 and have him be a great example for a young player like Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, the likely 3 technique of the future for the Irish. Having Bonner, Taylor, and MTA next season could give Notre Dame a nice competition going forward at the spot.
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