Spring football doesn't just represent a new season for a Notre Dame football player, in the case of John Turner, it can mean a new beginning – or restart, if you will – for his career.
The former Cathedral High School standout has spent two seasons trying to find a role at safety for the Fighting Irish, but did so only on special teams last season. So he's been moved this spring to outside linebacker in order to jump start his career.
“John has been an interesting player for us,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said recently. “We love his skill set. He's long and athletic, but it wasn't translating very well for whatever reasons.”
Turner redshirted his first season on campus, but a glut of defenders on the back end of the Irish defense stymied his ability to get onto the field. This spring, Kelly and new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder moved Turner to a cover position at outside linebacker, where they believe he'll have the strength to tackle, the speed to pass rush and the agility to cover on routes.
“We think that with the position that we are looking at him in right now, it seems to be clicking a little bit,” Kelly said. “For whatever reasons, sometimes a change does a guy good. He may be the beneficiary of that change.”
Turner is nearly 6-foot-1 and packs a lean 217 pounds on that frame. That size isn't quite what a full-fledged linebacker would weigh, but it's enough in certain personnel packages.
“The benefit is that the position, in a sub-package, takes advantage of a long kid that is almost a 'tweener,” Kelly said. “He's almost a (full-time) linebacker. He's that thick.
“In some of the positions that we are running him in right now, he can cover a No. 2 receiver and he can also bring some pressure (on the quarterback). He's got a unique skill set.”
Kelly admitted that “I don't know if John really had the chance last year” in regards to Turner having a fair opportunity to show what he could do on the field. But the coach knows for certain that the sophomore is getting a full evaluation right now. And if Turner is relegated to only special teams next season, it won't be due to any reason other than he didn't seize the chance for playing time.
“I'll be surprised only if John doesn't take advantage of this opportunity,” Kelly said. “Because he's been given a great opportunity here.
“We all knew about his physical ability. Now he's been given a chance that is an incredible opportunity. We knew that he had the ability to do it, now he's been given the chance to do it. I'll be surprised if he doesn't take advantage of it.”