Scarlet Sunrise: Could Sonny Styles move down to linebacker next season?

On3 imageby:Andy Backstrom02/12/24

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Could Sonny Styles move down to linebacker next season?

Lathan Ransom is returning for a fifth season, and second-team AP All-American Caleb Downs is now in the safety mix after transferring from Alabama last month.

Ransom figures to slot back into the strong safety spot he’s manned the last two seasons. Downs started at strong safety at Alabama during his illustrious true freshman campaign in 2023, except it appears as if he will be moving to free safety at Ohio State.

So where does that leave Sonny Styles?

Before Ransom announced he was coming back for another year, and before Downs even hit the transfer portal, Buckeyes defensive coordinator Jim Knowles was asked about the trajectory of Styles’ development.

Styles started the 2023 season at “nickel” safety, but he finished the year at strong safety after Ransom went down with a season-ending, lower-leg injury at Wisconsin in Week 9.

“I’ve always believed that he could be a high safety, that he could be a dominant high safety,” Knowles said of Styles leading up to the Cotton Bowl. “I think he’s shown that he can do the things that any safety can do with that kind of size and athleticism. It gives us a lot of options because he’s played to the field in that nickel position, he’s played the high safety [position].

“Sonny’s really talented. Sonny can move down into the box. He’s really shown that he can be anything we ask him to be. He really has a multitude of skills.”

So if he can be anything the Buckeyes ask him to be, what about linebacker? Because that nickel spot was primarily occupied by returning cornerback Jordan Hancock in the back half of last season. That was part of a philosophical shift Knowles made last offseason, being more open to the idea of corners absorbing snaps inside.

Linebacker could be Styles’ best shot at starter-level snaps, unless he’s rotated at nickel, a deep safety position and linebacker. Ohio State saw its top-two linebackers from the last couple years, Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers, depart for the NFL earlier this offseason. Veteran Cody Simon is expected to replace Eichenberg at the MIKE, but there are snaps for the taking at WILL.

Head coach Ryan Day was asked about the possibility of the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Styles sliding down to the second level for the 2024 season.

“Yeah, we’ve had conversations with Sonny, and he has the flexibility to do a lot of different things, which is great,” Day said of the junior last week. “And he’s embracing some of those things. So as we get into spring, we will start to figure out exactly how those will all shake out.”

Day continued: “But that’s the one thing when you see Sonny, he has the flexibility to do multiple things, not only because of his skill set in terms of his size but also his mental makeup. And he’s really willing to embrace some of those different roles. That’s exciting because it gives us a lot of flexibility with the defense.”

Styles, at one point described last offseason as a “unicorn” by now-former safeties coach Perry Eliano, played 543 defensive snaps in 2023, according to Pro Football Focus. Of those 543 snaps, per PFF, 181 came in the box, 162 came at deep safety, 150 came in the slot, 40 came on the defensive line and nine came on the corner.

While piling up 53 total tackles, two sacks, five pressures generated and a forced fumble, the Pickerington Central product moved all over the place. Another, perhaps more permanent, move wouldn’t be out of his wheelhouse.

Day noted, however, that whenever a position change is discussed for a player — on offense or defense — their feedback is critical.

“When guys make those moves, you really want guys to take ownership of it. Not just because the coach has told you to do it,” Day said.

Styles has teased his potential. The Buckeyes are still trying to maximize his skill set on a crowded defense. Maybe that’s at linebacker. Maybe not.

Either way, it’s not the worst “problem” to have.

No Buckeyes win Super Bowl ring this year, as both Chase Young and Nick Bosa on losing side of big game

Another year, another year without a former Ohio State player winning the Super Bowl. Defensive ends Chase Young and Nick Bosa got close, but their San Francisco 49ers fell to the Kansas City Chiefs, 25-22, in overtime Sunday night in Las Vegas.

Young recorded a sack, and he practically notched another in the second quarter when he forced an intentional grounding by Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes II. Bosa logged two tackles for loss.

Although Young had just two total tackles to his name, his first-half disruption couldn’t be missed. Bosa finished with six total tackles and three quarterback hits.

Together, they were part of a 49ers defense that suffocated Kansas City in the opening two quarters, and parts of the second half as well.

Unfortunately for San Francisco, it never built a lead big enough to put Mahomes away. The Chiefs kept knocking on the door and ultimately broke it down in overtime.

Next steps for Buckeyes as winter continues, offensive coordinator set

Every week of the 2024 offseason is critical, just as every week of the 2024 season will be, too. Lettermen Row broke down the next three steps for the Buckeyes this month before spring ball gets started.

Ohio State just brought aboard its offensive coordinator replacement, and it was the program’s biggest hire of the offseason. Bill O’Brien took the Boston College head coaching job, so the Buckeyes filled his vacancy with another former college and NFL head coach: Chip Kelly.

Day still has one more assistant spot to address on his coaching staff. Will he promote from within or hire externally? That’s one of the three next steps examined in this piece.

Counting down

Buckeyes vs. Akron: 201 days
Buckeyes vs. Michigan: 292 days

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