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Syracuse transfer Ja’Had Carter brings much-needed experience, versatility to Ohio State secondary

Carter excelled for three seasons in Upstate New York, but will now be looking to make a significant impact in Columbus.

Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Shortly after a tough (tough, tough) loss to Georgia in the College Football Playoff, Ohio State received its first BOOOOM of 2023. Ja’Had Carter, formerly of Syracuse, announced his commitment to OSU on Jan. 3, giving the Buckeyes an experienced vet at a position of significant need.

Prior to joining the Scarlet and Gray, Carter had been widely regarded as one of the top safeties available in the transfer portal, thanks to three years of starting experience and a Freshman All-American nod in 2020. His impending arrival in Columbus was a welcome announcement to or for those who watched a lost and confused (OSU) secondary get absolutely flambéed by the likes of TTUN and UGA.

At Syracuse, Carter was a bit of a chess piece for the Orange, moving all over the field in their 3-3-5 system (three safeties) which is not dissimilar from Jim Knowles’ preferred scheme. The versatile safety lined up deep, as well as in the slot and in the box, showing a willingness and ability to cover, tackle, and disrupt. Carter’s last season in central New York saw him spend significant time in the slot, so it made sense that upon choosing Ohio State, he was mentioned as a candidate to replace Tanner McCalister in the Buckeyes’ nickel safety role.

Nickel/slot safety was still Carter’s presumed assignment when he arrived in Columbus, however, a poorly timed injury suffered during spring practice(s) all but eliminated his early acclimation period. The injury also eliminated or significantly reduced the time OSU coaches got to observe their first ‘impact’ transfer of the offseason — on the field, at least. But due to Carter’s experience and coachability, he was still able to look, listen, and learn, setting him up to battle for a gig come August.

This is exactly what Carter has done, only not in the position he was expected to play. The fourth-year player and former three-star recruit out of Richmond, VA has taken most of his fall reps at free safety or what Knowles refers to as his ‘adjuster’ – as opposed to the nickel spot. Instead, Sonny Styles has taken over that nickel role, as it appears that the Buckeyes are keen on using their stud sophomore in a hybrid manner. The switch leaves Carter in a familiar position, even if it is not the one Ohio State fans envisioned.

Regardless of where Carter is lining up, he seems to be fitting in quite seamlessly with the Scarlet and Gray. He has given props to teammates for aiding his transfer transition and comes across as someone who is eager to help the team in any way possible. On the field, that is and will (hopefully) be accomplished by providing steady play, being in the right place(s) at the right time, and potentially even directing others.

The latter might sound strange or out of place coming from a new addition, but Carter is somewhat of an anomaly. His experience and versatility make him a valuable asset, even if he never becomes an All-Big Ten and/or All-American performer.

That being said, I (like many) expect Carter to play well for OSU. Because a proven track record of solid performance certainly exists. In three seasons prior to joining the Buckeyes, he totaled 138 tackles, 12 PBU, and 5 INT for Syracuse, helping the Orange finish as a top-25 defense – in both total yards and passing yards allowed (26th in 2021 but gimme a break) – each of the last two seasons.

And because Carter has also flashed one-on-one coverage skill(s), he could, in theory, be viewed as an emergency option at cornerback. Hopefully, it does not come to that for Ohio State, but the ability to occasionally blanket opposing pass catchers is yet another feather in Carter’s cap, of which he has many.

It is obviously TBD whether Carter can replicate his ACC success or even hold onto a starting gig in Columbus. The Buckeyes have several hungry players in the secondary, including (other) experienced vets Josh Proctor and Cam Martinez, both of whom have been in the OSU program and Knowles’ defense longer than Carter. In Proctor’s case, nearly a decade longer (I kid, I kid). But there will be plenty of competition for snaps and reps, so the Syracuse transfer would be wise not to rest on his laurels.

However, complacency should not be an issue with Carter. He is too experienced and presumably too hungry himself – otherwise, why transfer? – to let this opportunity pass. Buckeye Nation should be excited to see what he can and will do for Ohio State, making him a new player to watch.