COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ryan Day appeared to set the tone for Ohio State’s defense when he said the Buckeyes should have a top-10 defense this season.

But OSU defensive coordinator Jim Knowles took it a step further Tuesday when he said he expects the Buckeyes to have a top-five defense in the country.

“I wish [Day] would’ve said top five because that’s what we expect,” Knowles said. “I see a lot of promising things, but it’s my job at this time to really keep the pressure on.”

The expectation seems lofty considering OSU ranked 59th in total defense and 38th in points allowed per game. Knowles is fully entrenched as what Day refers to as OSU’s ‘head coach’ of the defense. And the players have quickly taken to his coaching style and scheme.

“He just has an unorthodox style of coaching,” graduate linebacker Teradja Mitchell said. “He knows how to teach to the players while still having fun at the same time. We love learning the defense.”

Knowles acknowledged his system only works if the players are also up to the challenge physically and mentally, something that was called into question following the Buckeyes’ first loss to Michigan since 2011.

“No matter what we do scheme-wise, we’re going to have to line up and win one on one,” Knowles said.

Knowles was especially pleased with OSU’s depth at defensive line as well as their aggressiveness.

“Our d-line, when we unleash them and we’re going to find ways to unleash them, they get after the quarterback, they get after it in the run game . . . and it really doesn’t matter who’s in there cause we’re aggressive and attacking.”

Knowles, who coaches the linebackers, says he likes the progress they’ve made and listed two Buckeyes as leaders of the unit.

“Tommy [Eichenberg] and Steele [Chambers] have really been solidifying things at linebacker,” Knowles said. “I feel like we have potential there for depth but still developing.”

He called Eichenberg the quiet leader of the defense who rarely makes mistakes,

“This is so important to me. This is everything I’ve worked for, this is everything I want,” Eichenberg said. “When things are important to you, you’re going to give it your all and you’re going to try to do things right the first time.”

Meanwhile, Knowles said Chambers has the confidence needed to play the position after being ‘battle tested’ last season.

“We played on our heels last year, plain and simple,” Chambers said. “Now, we’re just working on being more downhill, being more aggressive . . . we’re just a closer team, we’re a better team and I think we can go a really long way.”

The linebacker corps will also feature Mitchell, Cody Simon, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury; second-year Buckeye and former USC Trojan Palaie Gaoteote, Arizona State transfer Chip Trayanum and true freshman C.J. Hicks.

Safeties will be a focal point of Knowles’ defense and he has plenty of options, starting with Ronnie Hickman, who led the team in tackles, and fifth-year senior Josh Proctor, who’s back from a compound fracture suffered Week 2 against Oregon.

“Proctor sky’s the limit. He’s progressing very rapidly. He’s very talented. He could be the best in the country,” Knowles said.

Other notable safeties to keep an eye out for this year include Lathan Ransom, who’s back from a leg fracture suffered in the Rose Bowl; Tanner McCalister, who followed Knowles from Oklahoma State; and Kourt Williams III. Knowles also mentioned safeties Jantzen Dunn and Cameron Martinez have been getting reps at cornerback, a position where the Buckeyes are currently dealing with minor injuries.