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Jonathan Bonner Hopes His Third Year Is The Charm At Notre Dame

Bonner has moved around on the Irish defensive line and hopes to earn an increased role in 2016.
Bonner has moved around on the Irish defensive line and hopes to earn an increased role in 2016.
BGI/Andrew Ivins

Notre Dame’s defensive line rarely rotated personnel in 2015, which made it tough for Jonathan Bonner to make the splash he seemed to be headed toward last spring.

Named from the beginning of 2015 spring drills by head coach Brian Kelly as one of the impressive up-and-comers, Bonner was slated to provide a lift to Notre Dame’s pass rush.

A turf toe injury late in the spring, however, set that timeline back a bit. Not until November did the Chesterfield, Mo., product earn a sizable number of reps outside of mop-up duty.

After another spring under his belt, the junior thinks everything is clicking.

“I do [feel myself getting better],” he said. “I actually feel a difference this year compared to even the end of last year. Workouts are much better and you can use everything in your toolbox from last year and really put it into play during spring ball.”

Bonner admits he struggled to grasp defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s scheme at the beginning during his redshirt season in 2014. Part of his learning process has coincided with the Irish coaching staff, which has tinkered with where to place Bonner on the field.

“It’s easy to get lost in everything, so just being disciplined and knowing the position and keeping your head in the books, staying with all of the physical things you need to focus on, being disciplined really helps in progression,” he said. “I think in this defense one of the hardest things is learning the playbook. I think me really being confident with the playbook can make you a lot more confident on the field.

“You’re not thinking as much, so everything becomes a lot more natural, just more fluid.”

As the 2015 season unfolded, Bonner moved from a backup to Isaac Rochell at strongside defensive end to Sheldon Day’s backup at defensive tackle. When Day was limited for his final game in an Irish uniform, a 44-28 loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, Bonner assumed a more significant role with 37 snaps against the Buckeyes.

Following this spring, however, his path to the field in 2016 again looks to be as Rochell’s backup.

“I’d say I’m a versatile player,” Bonner said. “I’ve taken a lot of reps on both sides, so it hasn’t really been one-sided at either position. Through my progression, I’ve had time at both positions so they’re both coming along well.

“It doesn’t matter [where I play]. I’ve practiced at all the positions, so I’m prepared for any position really.”

Bonner figures to benefit from more rotating along the defensive line this season after only the nose guard position featured a consistent two-deep of playing time in 2015. On several occasions Kelly and his staff have stated their desire for more players to see the field more often.

“I went in and watched film with Coach [Keith] Gilmore and after sitting down and talking with him the next day, you could see there’s been changes and I’m able to get better every week with my pass rush and even now getting into a two-point stance,” he said. “I’m working on all kinds of moves.”

Bonner thinks he’s also making moves in the Irish rotation.