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Is lack of defensive commitments cause for concern in Ohio State’s 2023 recruiting class?

While the class is full of talent, there are holes at certain positions. Is offensive starpower going to mask a lack of depth on the other side of the ball, or do Buckeye fans simply need to practice patience?

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Patience (pa·tience) – noun: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset

Many Ohio State football fans (including myself) lack patience when it comes to their team. We might also lack empathy, understanding, realistic expectations, and/or sanity come football season, but hey, at least we’re passionate about our Buckeyes. And because OSU football is a cult-like religion in certain households, fans can become obsessed with any number of things that might factor into the team’s reputation or its success. Why does the national media hate us? Are we keeping up with the CFB Joneses? Is this the right coach?

I have even heard this one: How will the stadium turf affect winning and losing? We ask many questions that are impossible to answer and become overly concerned when even the smallest battle seems to be trending in the wrong direction. We allow ourselves to become concerned because we often lack the patience to sit back and let said battle unfold.

Recruiting is most certainly a battle, and it can directly impact the team and/or program success. Good teams recruit well, that goes without saying. But it is an ongoing process, not a single contest that is won or lost in a day. Or a week. Or even a summer. Classes are built up over a span of months or years, and they are consistently changing. There are peaks and valleys, and Ohio State seems to be stuck in a valley right now. A defensive valley. Recent “misses” on the defensive side of the ball have stung... painfully... but it would be beneficial to all if we as fans practice a little patience. Because the tide (Caleb Downs reference, sorry!) is not likely to turn until the on-field product improves

Despite Ohio State currently having the No. 4 class in the 2023 recruiting rankings, there are fans and armchair analysts who believe the sky is falling... or that Jim Knowles should be fired before he even coaches a game in Columbus! Clearly, I am being facetious, but it is fair to point out that recruiting efforts on the defensive side of the ball are lagging well behind that of the offense. Knowles has received some criticism because he is the new defensive coordinator, and the 2023 class currently has no linebackers. But maybe we should hold our proverbial horses just a bit.

First and foremost, in defense of Knowles specifically: He was brought in to fix an underwhelming defense. The Buckeyes finished tied for 59th in total defense in 2021, and that simply wasn’t good enough. Or acceptable. Ryan Day aggressively pursued the new DC – who was a hot commodity on the coaching market – armed with a firm belief that Ohio State should compete for the national title in 2022. In order to do so, the team’s defense needs to improve and carry its weight. 2023 prospects are bringing nothing to the table this year, so I am personally very willing to accept the fact that Knowles might have higher priorities than landing a five-star linebacker. I’ll take a top-25 defense over a future prospect any day, and if that means the 2023 class is lacking at one position, then so be it.

Now, in a more general sense, our desire to see a much-improved defense in 2022 does not prohibit us from being mildly disappointed if the Buckeyes were to end up with a less-than-stellar defensive recruiting class. This is Ohio State after all, and we want the best of the best... However, fans should also take stock of the roster as it stands today. The team returns eight of their top nine leading tacklers from the 2021 season. The only player missing from that list? Bryson Shaw, so please try to keep your emotions in check. He will be replaced (indirectly) by some combination of Josh Proctor and Tanner McCallister. Let’s call that an upgrade. Also gone are Haskell Garrett and Tyreke Smith, leaving more snaps for guys like J.T. Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer, and Tyleik Williams. Does that sound like something you would be interested in? On paper, OSU has more than enough talent to survive one thin(ish) defensive recruiting class.

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Recruits from the 2021 and 2022 cycles should also help bridge the gap between coaching staffs and future classes. And credit goes to a few of Ohio State’s former coaches, because despite what was lacking in on-field performance, those men – along with Day, Larry Johnson, Mark Pantoni, etc. – were instrumental in helping the Buckeyes land a number of talented defenders. Tuimoloau, Sawyer, Michael Hall, Jordan Hancock, Reid Carrico, C.J. Hicks, Sonny Styles, Caden Curry, Kenyatta Jackson... There are young players all over the place, waiting to make an impact (or more of an impact) for this team. If you are disappointed with the current number of 2023 commits at defensive line and/or linebacker, take comfort in the possibility that those two positions could already be loaded with future stars.

Building a 2023 class was always going to take time, and there is still plenty of it! Nothing is official, and we are still months away from pen being put to paper. Ohio State essentially turned over its entire defensive staff, and these new coaches were tasked with establishing new relationships. They also have no proof of concept to show recruits. Knowles, Perry Eliano, and Tim Walton can discuss previous developmental success and certain results all they want to, but they work in a “what have you done for me lately” business. Can those coaches continue to develop, and most importantly, win in Columbus?

I believe that they can (and will), and the recruiting wins should follow. Knowles and Eliano have helped turn three-star recruits into leaders of elite defensive units, so I have faith in their ability to do the same with superior talent. Tim Walton spent the last decade-plus coaching some of the best football players in the world, so his reputation as a teacher speaks for itself. As challenging as it might be – and it certainly is for me – we need to practice patience, give these coaches time, and have faith in Day and others’ decision to bring them in. Go Bucks!