Styles’ best fit still being evaluated heading into spring


Since arriving on campus as a 17-year-old freshman in 2022, Ohio State coaches have raved about Sonny Styles’ versatility as a potential playmaker across multiple levels of the defense.

At 6 feet 4 inches tall and 230 lbs., Styles’ blend of size and speed made him an immediate candidate to see the field as a true freshman, and he delivered by playing in 12 games and starting in Ohio State’s College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Georgia in the Peach Bowl. The impressive showing, albeit in a relatively limited capacity, created a compelling picture of what Styles could eventually become as he continued to mature.

Having cemented his place as a player defensive coordinator Jim Knowles couldn’t afford to keep off the field, Styles settled into a much larger role last season as a sophomore. But while he performed well in a defense that was among the best in the country in 2022, trying to identify the best positional home for Styles proved to be difficult.

After beginning the season as the nickel safety often lined up close to the line of scrimmage, Styles was forced to move to strong safety following the season-ending injury Lathan Ransom suffered at Wisconsin on Oct. 28. The move, while necessary on the fly, produced mixed results from Styles, begging the question of how Ohio State can fully unlock Styles’ playmaking ability heading into the 2024 season.

Decisions by Lathan Ransom and Jordan Hancock to return to Ohio State for another year seemingly solidify both the nickel and strong safety positions Styles played a season ago, and the addition of former Alabama safety and National Freshman of the Year Caleb Downs only adds to the deep pool of talent in the secondary.

Add in the emergence of now-sophomore Malik Hartford last season in spot duty and it would appear Ohio State is set at the safety position. But where does that leave Styles?

With just one linebacker —Cody Simon —returning with starting experience, speculation this offseason has risen regarding Styles’ prospects as a linebacker. His frame and proven willingness to play in run support lend to the idea, and with Simon likely taking over for Tommy Eichenberg in the middle of the defense, perhaps Styles’ future lies at the Will linebacker position vacated by the departure of Steele Chambers.

Wherever he ultimately plays, the Ohio State coaching staff isn’t rushing to box Styles in as the start of spring practice looms in less than two weeks.

“Sonny is dynamic in what he can do,” newly hired safeties coach Matt Guerrieri said on Tuesday. “He’s a unique combination of the ability to run, cover, tackle, mentality, and size. He has a lot of things and attributes. Without getting into specifics, we’re going to take a look at a number of different things for him to put him in the best position for him to be successful and for the team to be successful.”

Asked directly if he anticipates Styles moving to linebacker this season, freshly promoted linebackers coach James Laurinaitis echoed Guerrieri’s wait-and-see approach but noted Styles’ ability to do whatever is asked gives them several options.

“I think that’s a question probably above me,” Laurinaitis said of Styles’ future home. “But I think Sonny has such a rare skillset in a sense that, you saw it some a little bit, where he would kind of play the overhang last year and you didn’t really know what he was. Was this a safety or is this more of an outside backer? Is he an old-school Sam (linebacker), to use those terms? He’s just so versatile, so I think there are a lot of different roles we can put Sonny in to bring out the best in him.”

In complementing Styles’ versatile skillset, Laurinaitis likened him to former Clemson linebacker and first-round NFL Draft pick Isaiah Simmons, who transitioned from safety to linebacker ahead of his sophomore season. Simmons went on to win the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker as a junior in 2019.

“He’s in that Isaiah Simmons mix where you’re kind of like, ‘What really is he? Is he a safety?’ He’s just a weapon,” Laurinaitis said. “So I think that is something we have to kind of evaluate this spring, figuring out where to put him not only to best suit what we want to do as Silver Bullets but what’s best for his future.”

Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.

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