On National Signing Day, Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel introduced 23 signees to the program. Of that group, five have already enrolled for winter courses: Braxton Miller, Ryan Shazier, Jeff Heuerman, Jeremy Cash and Joel Hale.
If three of Scout.com's experts are to be believed, those latter two could find their respective ways onto the field sooner rather than later. "I like Jeremy Cash," Scout East recruiting manager Bob Lichtenfels told BuckeyeSports.com. "I think he's a little underrated for sure. He would probably be the sleeper. I think Joel Hale has a chance to be pretty good."
Each a three-star prospect, Cash and Hale had different factors working against them when they entered OSU.
Hale hails from Greenwood (Ind.) Center Grove, a state not typically known for its top-level football talent, while Cash was the "other" defensive standout on his team at Plantation, Fla. Shazier was the top dog, checking in as a four-star linebacker.
"He played on the same team as Shazier, who seems to get a lot more attention, but Cash is a big, physical safety," Scout Midwest recruiting manager Allen Trieu said. "You watch him on film and the way he hits people, he looks like a Buckeye kind of safety. I think his style of play and the physical style will allow him to get on the field at some point and be a starter down the road."
Listed at 6-2, 190 pounds, Cash checks in as the No. 30 safety prospect in the nation. As a senior, he missed five games with a knee injury but recorded 96 tackles including 23 for a loss and seven sacks and five forced fumbles.
"My main focus, I'll come and take your head off," Cash said. "I think I'll get better at playing the pass but outside of that I think I'll be good."
Asked if the injury helped keep him under the radar, Cash said, "As far as recruiting and all that goes, that means absolutely nothing to me. That's all just show and tell. When you come up on the field and play, that's between the boys."
His opportunity for playing time is aided by the fact that OSU will replace four of five starters in the defensive backfield. In addition, a rash of injuries thinned the ranks last season and forced the coaching staff to juggle players.
"These are spots … where these guys have to learn fast," safeties coach Paul Haynes said. "As we learned real fast, there could be a situation where guys have to go in there unexpectedly. We expect these (freshmen) to come in and compete and be ready to play."
Closer to the line, Hale spent his prep career lining up as a defensive end but will likely see the bulk of his snaps at tackle in Columbus. As a senior, he was named defensive line Mr. Football for the state of Indiana after recording 40 tackles and nine forced fumbles.
Once he adjusts to playing on the interior line, Hale could be a force, Trieu said.
"He's a big kid," the analyst said. "He played defensive end in high school at 295 pounds. Obviously he's going to have to learn to move inside but he's got a lot of physical ability there that you can't teach. He's got a nice big frame. I think once they coach him up technically he's going to a kid who can get on the field and make an impact."
Standing inside the team meeting room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center wearing a scarlet No. 51 jersey, Hale echoed Cash's thoughts on being classified as a sleeper in the recruiting class.
"That's what I'm looking forward to, not necessarily proving people wrong it's just showing people what I can do," he said. "If I have the opportunity, I have the opportunity. It's just going to come down to me working hard and having good effort on and off the field and doing well in the weight room."
Defensive line coach Jim Heacock described Hale as a versatile lineman.
"He's got great size, great speed and great quickness," Heacock said. "He gets off the ball well and was a very active player (at Center Grove). He's also done a good job in the weight room. He's got great work ethics. He's a big guy who runs well and can play off the edge and can play in nickel situations. He could play inside also."
Added Trieu: "He's got a lot of physical ability there that you can't teach. He's got a nice big frame. I think once they coach him up technically he's going to a kid who can get on the field and make an impact."
Likewise, Cash could impact the Buckeyes in a few different ways this fall.
"He might fit somewhere," BuckeyeSports.com recruiting analyst Bill Greene said. "He could play the star and then move Christian Bryant to corner. I think Jeremy Cash is going to play on special teams."