COLUMBUS – Urban Meyer saw the same holes and the same weaknesses everyone else saw in Ohio State’s defense last season.
He saw them more often, saw them more in depth and probably saw them in his sleep.
So, it is no surprise that two of the biggest areas of emphasis in Ohio State’s 2014 football recruiting class are linebackers and the defensive backfield.
Ohio State will bring in four linebackers and four defensive backs in its 23-man class.
Both those numbers fall one short of the five offensive linemen and five wide receivers/hybrid backs in the recruiting class. But the difference might be that the expectations of early playing time are greater for the incoming defensive players.
Meyer said there was “an emphasis on linebackers” in the recruiting class.
“Linebacker is one position where we’re going through an overhaul right now,” Meyer said at his signing day press conference on Wednesday.
The four linebacker recruits – Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga.), Dante Booker (Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary), Sam Hubbard (Cincinnati Moeller) and Kyle Berger (Cleveland St. Ignatius) – will be given the chance to prove they’re ready to play right away at a position where OSU appears to be very thin.
Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant are returning starters at linebacker, but Ryan Shazier – who left for the NFL draft after his junior season – was by far the most productive linebacker Ohio State had.
Getting the freshmen at that position ready will be a point of emphasis, Meyer said.
“We’re going to put pressure on them, on Coach Fickell (defensive coordinator Luke Fickell) and myself,” Meyer said. “They have to play for us in addition to the players we have on our roster now.”
In the defensive backfield, Damon Webb (Detroit Cass Tech) and Erick Smith (Cleveland Glenville) might be the most ready to contribute early. Malik Hooker (New Castle, Pa.) and Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland Glenville) are the other two recruits at that position.
“You’re going to see some big changes in the way we approach our business back there,” Meyer said about the defensive backfield. “That’s an area where we obviously need to improve.”
There was the same optimism a year ago that highly regarded recruits like linebacker Mike Mitchell, safety Vonn Bell and cornerbacks Cam Burrows and Eli Apple could contribute right away.
But, other than defensive lineman Joey Bosa, none of the first-year players had a huge impact.
Nine of OSU’s 23 recruits are from Ohio and the other 14 come from 11 different states. There are two from New Jersey, two from Georgia and two from Illinois. They also came from Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Indiana, Kentucky, New York and Michigan.
The Buckeyes got a bonus player late Wednesday afternoon when defensive lineman Dariuis Slade, who appeared headed to Michigan State, switched to Ohio State.
Some other comments from Meyer:
• He thinks two of the five offensive linemen who signed Wednesday could make it onto the depth chart. The most likely two are Jamarco Jones and Demetrius Knox.
“Typically, you don’t play freshmen there but these guys have mature bodies,” Meyer said.
Jones visited Michigan State last week but in the end stayed with his commitment to OSU.
“It would have been a fake smile up here if we didn’t get him,” Meyer said.
• He does pay attention to recruiting rankings, several of which said Ohio State had the No. 3 class nationally.
“Is that the final end all and say all? No. But we pay attention to that,” Meyer said.
• Ohio State’s team speed is getting closer to where he wants it with the addition of recruits like Johnnie Dixon and Curtis Samuel, but it is still not where he wants it. “We’re getting close. But we need a couple more to go with Dontre (Wilson),” Meyer said.
• Stephen Collier, the only quarterback in this year’s recruiting class, is not flashy but not every good quarterback is.
“He’s not a Terrelle (Pryor) or Braxton (Miller) but neither was Alex Smith,” Meyer said, referring to his quarterback at Utah, who is now in the NFL.
Ohio State signees
A look at the 23 recruits Ohio State signed:
Kyle Berger (LB) 6-2, 225, (Cleveland St. Ignatius). Was a 4-star recruit after his junior season when he had 10 sacks. Missed his entire senior season because of a knee injury.
Dante Booker (LB) 6-3, 215, (Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary). Ohio’s Mr. Football, the first defensive player to win that honor since Andy Katzenmoyer in 1995. Most analysts rate him a 4-star recruit. Had 24 tackles for losses, 8 sacks and 2 interceptions as a senior.
Noah Brown (WR) 6-2, 225 (Sparta, N.J. Pope John XXIII). A 4-star recruit, according to recruiting analysts. First-team All-New Jersey. Caught 41 passes for 857 yards, 14 TDs as a senior.
Parris Campbell (WR/RB) 6-1, 185 (Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary). Rated a 4-star prospect. Rushed for 1,584 yards as a senior. Runner-up in 100-meter dash at 2013 state track meet. Best time of 10.77 in the 100 meters.
Stephen Collier (QB) 6-3, 210, (Hinesville, Ga. Lee County). Gets 3 stars from the recruiting analysts. Passed for 2,291 yards and 24 TDs and rushed for 1,021 yards and 20 TDs as a senior. Already enrolled at Ohio State.
Johnnie Dixon (WR) 5-11, 195, (West Palm Beach Dwyer). Rated a 4-star recruit by all the major recruiting sites. Caught 54 passes for 1,124 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior. Best time of 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Already enrolled.
Jalyn Holmes (DE) 6-5, 240, (Norfolk, Va. Lake Taylor). Originally was leaning toward Texas. Second-team All-USA Today. Rated a 4-star recruit. Had 40 tackles for losses, 11 sacks as a senior.
Malik Hooker (DB) 6-2, 190 (New Castle, Pa.). Played only two seasons of high school football. Also recruited by some Division I basketball schools. Rated a 4-star recruit.
Sam Hubbard (LB) 6-6, 230 (Cincinnati Moeller). First-team All-Ohio. Five interceptions as a senior. Recruiting analysts split between 4 stars and 3 stars for him.
Jamarco Jones (OL) 6-4, 315, (Chicago De LaSalle). Jones threw a scare into OSU by taking a late visit to Michigan State. Rated a 4-star recruit. First-team All-Illinois.
Marcelys Jones (OL) 6-5, 340, (Cleveland Glenville). First-team All-Ohio. Analysts split between 3 stars and 4 stars. Already enrolled.
Demetrius Knox (OL) 6-4, 285, (Fort Worth All Saints). A 4-star recruit who is rated one of the top 20 seniors in Texas.
Marshon Lattimore (DB) 6-0, 180 (Cleveland Glenville). A 4-star recruit. State Defensive Player of the Year in Division II. Also rushed for 911 yards and 16 TDs.
Terry McLaurin (WR) 6-0, 190 (Indianapolis Cathedral). Mr. Football in Indiana. Caught 58 passes for 953 yards and 8 TDs. Also rushed for 744 yards. A 4-star recruit.
Raekwon McMillan (LB) 6-2, 242, (Hinesville, Ga. Liberty County). The most-hyped recruit in OSU’s class. The only 5-star recruit in that group. Had 35 tackles for losses and 8 sacks as a senior. Parade Magazine and USA Today All-American. Already enrolled.
Sean Nuernberger (K) 6-1, 235, (Buckner, Ky. Oldham County). Was 13 of 20 on field goals as a senior, with a long of 57 yards. Five of his misses were blocked. The only scholarship kicker on the roster. Already enrolled.
Curtis Samuel (WR) 5-11, 185, (Brooklyn, N.Y. Erasmus Hall). A 4-star recruit. Rushed for 1,461 yards and 17 touchdowns. Similar type player to Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall. Already enrolled.
Darius Slade (DL) 6-5, 240 (Montclair, N.J.). He originally committed to Nebraska, then switched to Michigan State before signing with OSU. Had 23 sacks his senior season. His cousin played for the Buckeyes’ new defensive line coach Larry Johnson at Penn State.
Erick Smith (DB) 6-1, 195, (Cleveland Glenville). Got a 4-star rating from the analysts. One of the players predicted to contribute immediately.
Brady Taylor (OL) 6-5, 290, (Columbus Ready). First-team All-Ohio. Gets 3 stars from the recruiting analysts.
Dylan Thompson (DE) 6-5, 270 (Lombard, Ill. Montini). Had 17 sacks as a senior. Gets 3 stars from most analysts.
Kyle Trout (OL) 6-6, 300, (Lancaster). First-team All-Ohio. Gets 4 stars from most recruiting analysts. Already enrolled.
Damon Webb (CB) 5-10, 180, (Detroit Cass Tech). Shared Player of the Year honors in Michigan. A 4-star recruit. Seven interceptions and four forced fumbles as a senior.