Keith Arnold

Baratti

Irish A-to-Z: Nicky Baratti

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It feels like forever ago, but in one of the crucial moments of Notre Dame’s 2012 undefeated regular season, freshman safety Nicky Baratti made an interception that kept Michigan out of the end zone. That a young player at a depth-starved position was able to step up served as a promising start to the Texan’s time in South Bend, though it’s also been the high-point of an injury-derailed career.

Baratti missed the entire 2013 season with a shoulder injury. He stepped onto the field against Purdue in 2014 and ended his season a play later, injuring the same shoulder.

With depth behind Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate slim, getting anything from Baratti would be a great lift to Todd Lyght’s secondary. But after missing the majority of two seasons after a promising freshman campaign where Baratti played in all 13 games, the future is unclear.

Let’s take a closer look at senior safety.

 

NICKY BARATTI
6’1, 205
Senior, No. 29, S

RECRUITING PROFILE

A custom-made RKG, a high-school jack-of-all-trades came to Notre Dame as a projected safety. First-team 5A All-State in Texas.

Offers from Arizona State, Arkansas, Baylor, Ole Miss and Texas Tech.

 

PLAYING CAREER

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.

Junior Season (2014): Recovered a fumble against Rice in season opener. Injured on his first play at safety against Purdue, ending his season in early September.

 

WHAT WE PROJECTED LAST YEAR

Here’s what our Crystal Ball said about Baratti this time last year.

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.

In retrospect, not having a sick and twisted sense of fairness kept me from guessing that the worst-case scenario was about to strike Baratti.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

It’s now or never for the senior safety. A widely-discussed candidate for a medical hardship scholarship, multiple shoulder surgeries had him in a similar category to Jarrett Grace and Chase Hounshell heading into spring.

But Baratti participated in spring practice, and he’ll be full-go this summer as work in the weight room and in OTAs will force him to test his shoulder early and often.

There’s no veteran depth in this secondary at safety that’ll play before a healthy Baratti does. Of course, assuming health from a player whose shoulder hasn’t been able to withstand the punishment of college football is a risky proposition.

With the depth chart being what it is, there’s no position better suited to allow Baratti the chance to have a successful return to the field. With graduate transfer Avery Sebastian and then a slew of kids, the chance to get back on track is there if Baratti’s body will let him.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Completely murky. While we’ve seen the careers of contributors like Tony Springmann get derailed after major injuries, Jarrett Grace seems to have returned from long odds and turned himself into a rotational player. Baratti will have earned at least one additional year of eligibility, and a sixth-year medical exemption would likely be a possibility if his body can fully recover… and the Irish see him worthy of two more seasons in the program.

Ultimately, there’s no reason not to push Baratti’s shoulder and see if it’ll hold up. That was likely the plan this spring, with scholarship numbers being tight. And that’ll likely hold true this August, with the Irish needing to be down to 85 scholarships before kickoff against Texas.

We saw a smart, athletic and capable football player as a freshman. If he can stay healthy, Baratti can return to form after a painful detour.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB

 

DE Jhonny Williams is transferring from Notre Dame

Jhonny Williams Signing Day
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The Jhonny Williams era at Notre Dame is over. After redshirting his freshman season, the Benton Harbor, Michigan native will look to reboot his academic and football career elsewhere. The defensive end took to Facebook to announce the news.

“Friends, family, loved ones, I will be transferring from the university of Notre Dame to pursue a football/academic career elsewhere, thank you for your support,” Williams wrote.

Where Williams ends up is not yet clear, but multiple reports say that the defensive end can transfer with no restrictions, though will need to sit out the 2015 season if he plays at the FBS level before having three seasons of eligibility remaining. When reached for comment by the South Bend Tribune’s Tyler James, Williams responded via text:

“Great school, great place, just not the right fit.”

The departure isn’t likely to have much of an effect on Notre Dame’s depth chart, though Williams looked like a potential answer at weakside defensive end, a position with Romeo Okwara and Andrew Trumbetti currently slotted in the two-deep. Williams continues a run of seemingly bad luck at a position that’s been very difficult for this coaching staff to recruit, and remains a major priority in the 2016 recruiting cycle, especially with the offseason loss of incoming freshman Bo Wallace. Add to that the uncertainty of Ishaq Williams’ NCAA eligibility, and if there’s a roster deficiency on the defensive side of the ball, it’s certainly at end.

Williams arrived on campus as a lanky former basketball player, listed at 230 pounds as a Notre Dame signee and the type of long and explosive athlete Irish fans craved as a 4-3 defensive end. But his road to the field wasn’t an easy one, as Williams spent a year learning the game after coming into South Bend as a raw athlete. He worked his way up to 260 pounds this spring, with the highlight coming on the Blue-Gold game’s final play with his touch-sack of backup quarterback Montgomery VanGorder.

As Notre Dame looks at its 85-man scholarship limit, history is once again showing why there is little reason to worry about being over the limit. With Williams joining Everett Golson as transfers, that’s 30-plus consecutive seasons where Notre Dame has had a football player transfer.

 

EDIT: Williams spoke with Irish 247’s Tom Loy about the decision to leave Notre Dame:

“This was the best decision for me,” said Williams to Irish247‘s Tom Loy. “I love Notre Dame. I love the coaching staff. I love the players. I love every single thing about Notre Dame. This has nothing to do with the football program or anything with the staff. I can’t say it enough how much I appreciate my time at Notre Dame. This was just a decision about family. My family has been going through some stuff and my mom is dealing with some stuff and I just want to be a little closer to home right now. My mind has been elsewhere and that’s where my focus has been. Things are much better now, so I want to find a fresh start somewhere and put my focus and attention into it 100-percent.”

 

Irish A-to-Z: Josh Barajas

247 Sports
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Incoming freshman Josh Barajas enters Notre Dame with great expectations. Viewed as one of the state of Indiana’s top prospects, the Irish won a tough recruiting battle with Penn State, flipping Barajas back to the Irish—a place where he looked like a perfect fit all along.

With length and speed, Barajas needs to add some bulk to his frame. And while he’s not quite at the level of a Jaylon Smith when it comes to freakish traits, Barajas has the type of playmaking skills that have many thinking he could be the next great linebacker to come through the pipeline.

Brian VanGorder’s system demands an outside linebacker with both speed and length. Barajas looks to have both of those traits, and he’ll look to use them as soon as possible.

 

JOSH BARAJAS
6’3″, 220 lbs.
Freshman, No. 30, OLB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

U.S. Army All-American. Consensus 4-Star player. All-State Indiana, with 247 viewing him as the state’s top prospect. Barajas more than held his own in San Antonio, his first national exposure as a football player.

Had offers from Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State and Oregon among others.

 

UPSIDE POTENTIAL

Athletically, Barajas fits the sweet spot in the size-speed-athleticism matrix. And from the sound of Brian Kelly’s signing day comments, he profiles nicely when you compare him to athletes like Nyles Morgan and Jaylon Smith, not exactly bad comps.

“I think he possesses a lot of the same physical traits: Speed, the ability to arrive with a violent collision. He’s just a physical player and that size and power is a unique trait. It’s very similar to what you mentioned in Nyles and Jaylon,” Kelly said.

“So he’s got similar traits, similar qualities, and we’re going to progress him just like we did with those two guys. We’ll see how much he can handle, and as much as he can handle is as much as we’ll give him.”

Again, even the best freshman middle linebacker recruit in the country struggled and looked lost at times last year. But the fact that Barajas is an edge player might be an advantage to seeing the field early.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

When a team returns the majority of its defense, it’s always difficult to see how a freshman fits into the equation before ever actually seeing him on the field. But in Barajas’ case, his versatility could be a great piece in sub-packages, and certainly could lead to him seeing the field on coverage units.

While he doesn’t have the look of a pass rusher, you’ve got to wonder if the departure of Bo Wallace might allow the Irish staff to kick the tires on Barajas as a hand-on-the-ground pass rusher. It’s a move that got Kolin Hill on the field as a freshman, and most believe that Barajas is at least as good of an athlete.

Ultimately, the 2015 season looks like one where just about every freshman defender will be hoping to earn a bit role in the larger unit. That’s likely the plan for Barajas, who needs to gain some weight before he’s big enough to survive in the trenches.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB

Williams has a home at Notre Dame, even if football future is unclear

USC v Notre Dame
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The curious case of Ishaq Williams has become clearer. But only slightly.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly spoke about his exiled defensive end, who returned to campus this summer and is reenrolled in the university after serving a two-semester suspension for honor code violations. And while his role on the team—and his place among the 85 football scholarship roster spots—isn’t fully explainable (we’ll try later), Kelly did make it clear that Williams will be a part of the football program, will be on scholarship at Notre Dame, and will earn his degree.

“Every time I use my words it spins it differently,” Kelly said Monday to a group of assembled media at the Kelly Cares Football 101 event. “I want to be clear.  He’s back in school. We’re really excited about that part of it. And I know he’s back in school because he told me. He’s in workouts because I’ve seen him. Those two things I know for sure.

“All the other stuff is NCAA eligibility stuff that is a lot more complicated. It has to do with missed terms and hours and appeals and things like that. A lot more complicated. We’re gonna go through that process. He knows there’s a hill to climb there.”

Williams’ eligibility clock expires after the 2015 season. And after listening to Kelly’s latest comments, the tea leaves lead us to believe that the issue isn’t with Notre Dame, but rather with eligibility requirements set by the NCAA. Taking a step farther out on the branch—and again, this is pure speculation—one could make the slightly-more-than-educated-guess that Williams’ GPA, after being adjusted to reflect the courses where academic violations took place, might have slid below 2.0, the threshold for playing.

Regardless of Williams’ status with the NCAA,  the veteran defensive end will be a part of the football program. He could be a full-time member of the scout team, or he could be in the rotation at a seemingly healthy position, paired with Isaac Rochell at strong side defensive end. This detour in Williams’ career certainly won’t end his hopes of playing on Sundays.

“He still has a want and a desire to play in the NFL. He’s huge, he’s big and looks great,” Kelly said. “We’re going to work him out and he could practice with us, and keep himself in a position where he could go through a Senior Day and do all those things as well.”

While Williams hasn’t played up to his 5-star pedigree, there’s no doubt he’d be a nice piece of veteran depth to add to the front seven. But as the various parts of this process grind through the wheels of bureaucracy in Indianapolis, Kelly made it clear that Williams would achieve the ultimate goal of earning his degree from Notre Dame, something Williams never waved from during his suspension.

“He’ll be on scholarship,” Kelly said. “I’m not here to paint any pictures whether it’s this chance or that chance. All I know is he’s gonna be back in school and he’s going to get his degree from Notre Dame. If he plays football, we’ll be ecstatic for him. But the bottom line is he’s going to get his degree from Notre Dame.”

 

Irish A-to-Z: Josh Adams

Property of the Trentonian
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Even with Notre Dame’s running back depth chart precariously thin, the addition of incoming freshman Josh Adams didn’t necessarily look like a no-brainer. The Pennsylvania native was in the middle of rehabbing an ACL tear when the commitment took place, eliminating a season of game tape for the Irish staff while adding in a very large question mark.

But Notre Dame’s staff saw what it wanted when Adams was on campus for a summer camp after running for over 2,000 yards as a sophomore. And that early commitment to Adams paid off when he rebounded with a solid senior season, and probably just as importantly, the Irish swung and missed on top national target Soso Jamabo.

A long, lean athlete who has a physical build similar to George Atkinson coming out of high school, Adams joins Dexter Williams as youngsters in a backfield filled with veterans. Let’s kick off our A-to-Z series with a look at one of the incoming freshmen getting their first taste of college football.

 

JOSH ADAMS
6’2″, 210 lbs.
Freshman, No. 33, RB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A four-star running back on 247Sports’ composite ranking. Adams was an All-State AAAA on Pennsylvania Football Writers’ team. His bounce-back 1,600-yard campaign was only 10 games, with an ankle injury ending his year early.

Adams had offers from Penn State, Pitt, Rutgers and Stanford, though never visited Palo Alto after deciding on Notre Dame in late June.

 

UPSIDE POTENTIAL

It’s not viewed as a compliment any more, but calling Adams a George Atkinson clone is supposed to be one, assuming that Adams has functional hands and a better head on his shoulders. At 6-1 or 6-2, Adams is a lanky back, and while he might not have the elite speed Atkinson did, he’ll likely play faster, something that plagued GA3 throughout his three seasons in South Bend.

Back when he pledged to Notre Dame—and still during his recovery from an ACL tear—his then high school coach Dan Rackovan had this to say about Adams’ upside potential.

“His potential, both size and athletically are off the charts,” Rackovan told Irish Illustrated. “He’s a very explosive kid, a finisher. And above all else, he’s a great kid. He’s a really good student, a leader in the school, all the things you’d want to be a part of your football team.”

Here’s what Brian Kelly said about Adams on Signing Day, probably a more glowing review than his prep coach.

“(He) has not even tapped what he can do at the position. He has not played a lot of football, and at 6 2, 210 pounds, we think he can be with the speed that he possesses, we think he can be whatever he wants to be,” Kelly said. “We can’t wait to develop him. Great speed, great size, and has the ability with our weight training to be that kind of big, physical back that we are looking for.”

 

 

 

CRYSTAL BALL

There doesn’t seem to be any snaps for a young ball carrier on this roster, unless one of these guys does something mighty special during fall camp. And while the Irish staff feels like they found a special football player in Adams, there’s no hurry to get him on the field.

While Tony Alford was the one who recruited Adams, it’s worth noting that it’ll be Autry Denson who’ll develop him. And Denson’s career at Notre Dame, not to mention his DNA as a player who maxed out his ability, will serve Adams well, especially as the lesser heralded prospect of the two backs in the 2015 recruiting class.

By all reports, Adams fits the bill of an “RKG.” Here’s what his coach Tom Hetrick said after Signing Day.

“This is a special day because Josh is a special kind of kid,” Hetrick said. “He always does the right thing. He’s a great ambassador for our program.”

 

With the depth chart at running back a veteran group, that mental makeup will pay dividends if it takes a few years to see the field. But with size and speed, Adams could find his way onto the field via special teams, and sure shares the profile of a safety if we’re looking at position switch candidates.