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Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 01 Brown at Rhode Island

KINGSTON, RI - OCTOBER 01: Brown Bears running back Allen Smith (39) runs with the ball during a college football game between the Brown Bears and the Rhode Island Rams on October 1, 2022, at Meade Stadium in Kingston, RI. (Photo by Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Notre Dame’s spring practice roster featured only three safeties with any experience, four if Oklahoma State transfer Thomas Harper had been both healthy and expected to play safety rather than nickel back. Early-enrolled freshmen Ben Minich and Adon Shuler (out in the spring with a shoulder injury) will add some emergency depth, but only so much can be expected from freshmen, naturally.

Enter Rhode Island graduate transfer Antonio Carter II, who committed to the Irish on Saturday afternoon.

Carter entered the transfer portal last month and quickly received scholarship offers from nearly 20 FBS programs, including Wisconsin, Washington and Mississippi. He was due to visit LSU this weekend and Florida soon after before those trips were canceled by his commitment while at Notre Dame this week.

Some Irish fans may be quick to dismiss a transfer from an FCS program, even a player with 21 starts and 105 tackles the last two seasons, not to mention 10 pass breakups, an interception and two forced fumbles in 11 games last year. But Rhode Island is a quality FCS program. If a needed safety transfer came from a low-level FBS program like Charlotte, New Mexico or Florida International, the reaction would be more positive, suggesting it is a player too talented for his current competition.

By the Sagarain Ratings, a system that combines both FBS and FCS analytics, Rhode Island was a better team than any of those three, coming in at No. 160, just ahead of FCS power South Dakota.

Five of the top-30 FCS teams, per SP+, were from the Colonial Athletic Association, with Rhode Island slotting at No. 30. The Rams were 1-2 against those CAA teams ahead of them, with one of those losses coming 42-41 vs. Delaware.

Carter played largely as a cornerback for Rhode Island last season, but he will be vital in Notre Dame’s safety depth chart. That cornerback experience should make Carter comfortable in man-to-man coverage as needed. What most jumps out when watching his highlight reel is Carter could lead the Irish in tackles per snap, both a sure tackler in the open field and a quick closer on receivers. Notching 60 tackles in just more than 700 snaps last year backs up that eye-test conclusion, along with 4.5 tackles for loss and one sack.

Carter wore No. 8 at Rhode Island, a number held by Notre Dame fifth-year linebacker Marist Liufau. As an excuse not to guess Carter’s placement in the summer series “99-to-0”, let’s run through the rest of that template now.

Editor’s Note: In mid-June, Notre Dame updated its roster, revealing Carter will wear No. 4 in South Bend.

Listed measurements: 6-foot-1, 200 pounds per Rhode Island’s website.2023-24 year, eligibility: Carter enrolled at Rhode Island in 2019, so he has played four years, but his freshman season preserved a year of eligibility and 2020 did not count toward his ticking clock thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver, meaning Carter has two years of eligibility remaining as he arrives in South Bend.Depth Chart: Carter should not start at safety. That should still be senior Xavier Watts and either sixth-year DJ Brown or senior Ramon Henderson. Given some similarities in their cross-field aggression, Carter likely will back up Watts.Recruiting: Carter had already visited Wisconsin and Mississippi in this transfer process. SEC programs awaited his visit this week. The springtime transfer market may be depleted compared to the winter’s, but Carter was undeniably a hot commodity, nonetheless.

Notre Dame had been in the market for a safety transfer since before spring practices, particularly since incoming freshman Brandyn Hillman asked for a release from his National Letter of Intent. At that point, Irish head coach Marcus Freeman outright said he expected to chase a safety transfer, not yet even knowing who would be available.

Carter dabbled on special teams as a freshman and then had to endure a hefty delay before his sophomore season. At the FCS level, the 2020 season was pushed to the spring of 2021, though the universal pandemic eligibility waiver still applied.

But it was hardly a season. The Rams squeezed in three games before a coronavirus outbreak within their locker room canceled their final three games. Carter appeared in all three of those, helping propel Rhode Island to a No. 18 ranking before its season was cut short at 2-1.

He took over a starting role in the last two seasons.

2019: 3 games.2020: 3 games; seven tackles with one interception.2021: 10 games; 45 tackles with one sack and six passes broken up with one forced fumble.2022: 11 games; 60 tackles with 4.5 for loss including one sack and 10 passes broken up, two forced fumbles and one interception.

Carter presumably has multiple reasons for wanting to transfer to Notre Dame. Like Alohi Gilman from Navy back in 2017, Carter may think he has a chance at developing into an NFL player and this is the platform to display that. Competing against simply better competition may appeal to him. The education certainly does not hurt the Irish sales pitch.

Logically, given it is 2023, Carter should also already have some idea of an income in South Bend. For the purpose of framing the constant NIL conversation, understanding how much Carter expects to pocket would inform a lot more than an idea of his coming lifestyle. Unfortunately, that knowledge will remain a wish, another tenet of 2023.

Not only Freeman acknowledged the want of a safety transfer this spring. Safeties coach Chris O’Leary also did, both to the media and to his position group.

“It’s evaluating this spring how ready our two-deep was to play on the big stage and push for a national title,” O’Leary said. “That’s the decision we’re making. Beyond that, we have numbers that we want to get guys to develop. We’re always evaluating that situation.

“I’ve told them we might look in the portal in May. It just depends. That’s a fluid situation.”

While Notre Dame is shallow at safety, it has some confidence in its top three. Watts has developed quickly since moving from receiver during the 2021 season, Henderson has flashed in the same time span, and Brown was invited back for a sixth season because of his on-field coaching and experience.

But then there is nothing but a gap for the Irish. There always had been, frankly. Junior Justin Walters’ leaving the program did not cost Notre Dame known depth; he had not taken a defensive snap in his collegiate carer. With Hillman joining Minich and Shuler, the Irish at least had three shots at a freshman bursting through. Down to two darts, those odds were that much less likely.

All of which is to say, Carter should be assured of playing time in 2023. New special teams coordinator Marty Biagi has probably already advocated for access to Carter on his coverage units. That should not be all for Carter.

If nothing else, Carter provides defensive coordinator Al Golden some peace of mind should any of Watts, Henderson or Brown get nicked up.

The deeper allure to Carter’s transfer may be in the 2024 season. Brown will be out of eligibility after this season. Both Watts and Henderson will be down to their final seasons heading into 2024, and there is no guarantee both will be invited back for a fifth season.

That could quickly elevate Carter to a starting role next year, rather than lean on Minich or Shuler. By next preseason, Notre Dame should know what it has in the Rhode Island transfer, which may be more than is known about either of the current freshmen or any possible transfer next year.

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 93 Armel Mukam, incoming freshman defensive end, former Stanford commit
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 87 Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
No. 79 Tosh Baker, senior tackle, again a backup but next year ...
No. 78 Pat Coogan, junior interior offensive lineman
No. 77 Ty Chan, sophomore offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, first-team All-American left tackle
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, sophomore left guard, likely starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, fifth-year right guard, likely starter
No. 72 Sam Pendelton, early-enrolled freshman offensive lineman
No. 70 Ashton Craig, sophomore interior offensive lineman
No. 68 Michael Carmody, senior offensive lineman
No. 56 Charles Jagusah, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 55 Chris Terek, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 51 Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 17 Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 13 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 12 Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience
No. 4 Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth

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