2015 recruiting needs: Defense

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Football Recruiting
Ohio State's 2015 Recruiting Needs — Defense
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Having already looked at the needs on offense, we now turn to where championships are won, which is the defensive side of the ball.

The Ohio State defense has been under fire for the last three years, so the continued signing of talented prospects is paramount. Urban Meyer has signed top five classes in each of his first three go-rounds at OSU, and to do it again, he'll need to continue landing top notch defensive players.

Here's a look at how many players at each position the Buckeyes could be looking at, as well as a few names to keep in mind.

Defensive Line (3-4)
The 2014 Buckeyes will have three senior defensive linemen on it, so three replacements in the 2015 class would be a good start. Michael Bennett, Joel Hale and Steve Miller will all depart, but the coaching staff has already done a solid job of targeting the defensive line in the past three recruiting classes. OSU will be playing with 13 scholarship defensive linemen in 2014, but that number might increase by one in 2015.

Ohio State redshirted two freshman defensive tackles last season, and will likely have anywhere between four and six tackles on the roster in 2015. With no true defensive tackle in last year's class, they could reach out for two in 2015, with five-star Tim Settle (Manassas, VA) being their top target. Christian Wilkins (Suffield, CT) is a player to watch, as OSU defensive line coach Larry Johnson has been recruiting him since his time at Penn State.

At defensive end, Terry Beckner (East St. Louis, IL) is one of the top players on Ohio State's board. He is rated the #2 strong side defensive end in the nation per 247Sports. Others to watch are Jashon Cornell (St. Paul, MN) and James Lockhart (Ennis, TX). Cornell is the top overall player in the 2015 class per ESPN. Lockhart, meanwhile, will be difficult to get out of Texas. There is also Josh Sweat (Chesapeake, VA), who is the #2 defensive end in the nation per Scout.

Linebackers (3-4)
Until the linebacker situation is finally fixed, Urban Meyer and his coaches will try to battle the issues with sheer numbers. Ohio State will likely only need to replace Curtis Grant in 2015, but don't expect just one linebacker to be signed. In fact, they could be looking to do the same thing they did last year, by signing as many as four linebackers in this next recruiting class.

There are quite a few players in the mix right now for the Buckeyes, and linebacker is one of the rare positions where they have some in-state options. Justin Hilliard (Cincinnati, OH) is the top outside linebacker in the nation per 247Sports. Ohio State will have to battle Michigan, Notre Dame and Iowa for his services.

Jerome Baker
(Cleveland, OH) is the #6 outside linebacker in the nation per Scout, and he is also one of the more versatile athletes in the country. At 6-1 205 and running a 4.54, Baker could also end up at safety or running back. Nick Conner (Dublin, OH) is another in-state prospect, but he is still awaiting an offer.

Three other linebackers at or near the top of Ohio State's list are Ricky DeBerry (Richmond, VA), Jeffery Holland (Jacksonville, FL) and Sh'mar Kilby-Lane (Hallandale, FL). DeBerry and Holland are two of the most coveted 'backers in the nation, and Kilby-Lane impresses more and more people by the day. All three are certainly in play for the Buckeyes.

Cornerbacks (2)
Doran Grant will be the only senior cornerback that the Buckeyes need to replace. Given how young Ohio State is at the position, they will certainly intend on bringing in more than one cornerback to replace Grant's spot. Expect at least two or three, unless the young corners on the team take root and explode in 2014. In that case, maybe they'll just dial it back down to two. After all, Kerry Coombs has already said that one of his jobs every year is to find the two best cornerbacks in the nation who want to be Buckeyes.

Ohio State already has one cornerback committed for 2015 in Jamel Dean (Cocoa, FL). He committed to OSU over offers from Florida and Miami (FL). Ohio State will likely be very picky when it comes to what they do at the position moving forward. Minkah Fitzpatrick (Jersey City, NJ) and Jordan Whitehead (Monaca, PA) are two who have legit interest in the Buckeyes.

Safeties (1-2)
Ohio State won't need to replace any safeties in 2015, but that doesn't mean they won't want to increase the talent level. They will likely have even higher standards when it comes to landing a safety in the 2015 class, as they won't need to reach.

The Buckeyes received a commitment from safety Ben Edwards (Jacksonville, FL) on Tuesday, so it didn't take them long to decide whether or not they needed a safety. How many more they need will depend on how their current roster progresses.

Bringing in safeties Erick Smith and Malik Hooker in 2014, and redshirting 2013 signees Chris Worley and Jayme Thompson means that the Buckeyes will have four freshman safeties on the 2014 roster. They can afford to take just one safety in 2015, provided they like what they see from the youngsters.

Special Teamers (1)
Barring a disaster in 2014, Ohio State will be returning both kicking specialists in 2015. Also, long-snapper Bryce Haynes will return as well. However, rather than pinning all of their hopes on a true freshman long-snapper in 2016, they are looking to sign one in 2015 and allow him to get a year under his belt before being given the job.

Currently, the best bet is Liam McCullough (Columbus, OH), who is the #2-ranked long-snapper in the nation per RubioLongSnapping.com. He is ranked the #1 long-snapper in the 2015 class per 247Sports. He was offered this past week by the Buckeyes.

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