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.
Senior, No. 29, S
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.
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.
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.
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.