May 1, 2014, 3:28 PM EDT
Entering last spring, Nicky Baratti looked like a candidate to win a starting job at safety. But his career trajectory was thrown into doubt when a shoulder injury cost him his sophomore season. Healthy after returning to action this spring, Baratti enters a depth chart that doesn’t even resemble the one he entered in 2012. But he’ll be back in the thick of a secondary that’s talented but still needs to sort things out.
Let’s take a closer look at the rising junior from Texas.
6’1″, 206 lbs.
Junior, No. 29
In the height of the RKG craze, Baratti looked like a custom fit. The Spring, Texas native was an “athlete” that projected to be a safety at the next level. Baratti’s offer list was good, but didn’t contain many elite options, though schools like Arizona State, Arkansas, Baylor, Ole Miss, Northwestern and Texas Tech chased him, even though he committed early to Notre Dame.
Baratti played five positions during his senior season, working as a quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end and safety. He also punted. He was named to the first-team 5A All-State team by the Texas Sportswriters Association.
Like most recruits, Baratti “shrunk” when he actually got on campus, not quite the 6-foot-2, 215-pound safety that Rivals advertised. But he saw the field quickly, contributing a key interception as a freshman and working his way up the safety depth chart immediately.
Freshman Season (2012): Played in all 13 games both on special teams and as a back-up safety. Made eight tackles and a key interception against Michigan in the end zone, the first by a freshman since 2008.
Sophomore Season (2013): Missed the season with an injury.
There’s no question Baratti’s career is at a crossroad. Since his injury, Max Redfield has emerged as a starting safety and Austin Collinsworth has returned to action. Classmate Elijah Shumate is also battling for playing time at safety along with Eilar Hardy, who had a nice 2013 season in Baratti’s absence.
But there’s still reason to believe that Baratti can be a productive player. Brian VanGorder’s system has shifted “safeties” like John Turner and James Onwualu into a different mold, likely pushing them closer to the line of scrimmage. That leaves Baratti, Hardy, and Shumate as the depth at the position, now that Matthias Farley has turned into a cornerback.
One place Baratti will likely stand out is on special teams. He showed a knack as a true freshman on coverage units and will likely add some speed and athleticism to those teams this fall. But that likely won’t be enough to satisfy Baratti, who managed to play his way onto the field early as a freshman, giving you an idea that his football IQ is above-average. With the Irish rebooting their system this year, Baratti has a chance to make up some lost ground with a strong knowledge base.
I tend to think Baratti is too good of a football player to not see the field. If not for his shoulder injury, some expected Baratti to be one of the winners of last spring’s wide-open safety battle, and if he’s fully healthy and can play at full speed, there’s no reason why he can’t be a contributor.
It might not happen in 2014, but the depth chart starts to clear up once Collinsworth departs, as it’ll be interesting to see if Eilar Hardy sticks around for a fifth year.
Without having seen Brian VanGorder’s defense in action, it’s hard to know how often he’ll utilize the safety position in nickel and dime packages. Bob Diaco loved using a safety as the next defender in, though it sounds like VanGorder will put an extra corner on the field first, especially with the talent Notre Dame has at the position.
But Baratti was known for his speed coming into South Bend. So if he’s able to cover, he’ll have a chance to play.
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