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Column: With defensive struggles continuing, Ohio State’s finish in the 2022 class becomes more vital

The Buckeyes have plenty of concerns defensively and that should add emphasis to how they close out the 2022 class.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch via Imagn Content Services, LLC

It has been no secret for quite some time now that Ohio State has had plenty of struggles defensively throughout the last couple of years. The Oregon contest last Saturday — which saw the Ducks, led by junior running back C.J. Verdell, totally outclass the Buckeyes and pace their way to over 500 yards of total offense — just seemed to be where things boiled over.

There are plenty of questions that need to be addressed on that side of the ball going forward; Are coaching changes needed and/or inevitable now? Are they running the scheme that puts their guys in the best position to succeed? Do they have the personnel needed to play at the level that they hope to play at?

Surely we will continue to get a better feel for the reason(s) as the season progresses. But, while it might not fix all of the complications, one thing that can’t be questioned is the importance of stockpiling talented players annually. That’s why the defensive finish becomes even more important for Ohio State in the their 2022 recruiting class, especially when you consider the names in-play.

Right now, you could say that the Buckeyes have already pieced together a pretty impressive group of future Scarlet and Gray defenders. Leading the way is a trio of composite Top 50 prospects in five-star linebacker C.J. Hicks (No. 17 overall) of Archbishop Alter (OH), four-star cornerback Terrance Brooks (No. 38) of Little Elm (TX), and four-star linebacker Gabe Powers (No. 46) of Marysville (OH).

Ohio State should also be applauded for their efforts in the secondary in this cycle because it was certainly no secret that a big haul at one specific spot was of high importance. It’s turned into ultimately securing verbal pledges from three other cornerbacks aside from the aforementioned Brooks including four-star cornerback Jyaire Brown of Lakota West (OH), four-star cornerback Ryan Turner of Chaminade-Madonna Prep (FL), and three-star defensive back/athlete Kye Stokes of Armwood (FL).

But it won’t matter too much if the Buckeyes don’t close the door on a few key targets that remain in-play with both signing periods approaching. Land-Grant Holy Land takes a look at the positions and key names still floating around that could wind up in Columbus next year.


Defensive Line

It’s the unquestioned most important position for Ohio State as they put the finishing touches on the class and there is no lack of high end talent as realistic options. Here is the running list of players that included the Buckeyes in their respective top school lists.

That alone says all you need to know about how highly ranked players think of defensive line coach Larry Johnson. Not to be forgotten, four-star defensive lineman Chris McClellan (No. 93) of Owasso (OK) was at one point expected to be a Buckeye. While things may have changed, the amount of options on the table for Ohio State is certainly promising. As for who could be the most likely additions, the 247Sports Crystal Ball leans towards Curry, Jackson, and McClellan as the most likely, though the latter seems to have been trending towards his home state Sooners since those predictions came in.


Linebacker

Does Ohio State take another for Al Washington’s room, or are they good to go with Hicks and Powers? While the two prospects certainly give you a pairing that won’t lack talent and expectations, the linebacker play has been so bad for the Buckeyes that I wouldn’t rule out potentially taking another if the staff is comfortable with the idea.

The one name that seems to be mentioned as a possibility is three-star linebacker/athlete Carson Tabaracci of Park City (UT). The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder picked up an offer from Ohio State back in June after impressing the coaching staff at camp and that was the initial indication that a third linebacker was at least a thought. I don’t expect Tabaracci to be in Columbus when all is said and done, but it will be interesting to see if the Buckeyes circle back to this.


Cornerback

While I said Ohio State deserves some credit for their work here with three blue-chip additions and a potential underrated pickup from Florida, there was a point in time when a fifth cornerback was included in the 2022 recruiting class. Five-star cornerback Jaheim Singletary, the fifth highest graded corner overall, of Riverside (FL) was a tough loss and one that won’t be easily replaced. Will they even replace him at this point? We will see but it’s not clear which direction the Buckeyes would go if they did.


Safety

From day one, the plan has been unchanged for Ohio State in the back end of the secondary. It has always been to out-battle the other elite programs and pair four-star safety Zion Branch of Bishop Gorman (NV) and four-star safety Xavier Nwankpa of Southeast Polk (IA).

While the two have had relatively quiet and drama-less recruitments so far, perhaps the most telling sign as to where the Buckeyes stand with the two is the lack of activity at the position. It seems that we aren’t seeing a flurry of offers to other safety prospects because the coaching staff is confident in their current positioning for their two top targets at the spot.