Sonny Styles Ohio State Buckeyes Linebacker

Sonny Styles Adjusting Well To New Role At Linebacker

Sonny Styles started 12 games for the Buckeyes as a sophomore last year, with the first seven of those starts coming at nickel and the final seven happening at strong safety.

He grew accustomed to moving around defensively a year ago. Now he is moving again, but this time to inside linebacker.

Saturday will be just the fifth practice of spring camp, which also means it will only be Styles’ fifth practice as a linebacker. Speaking after practice No. 4 on Thursday, however, Sonny Styles is proving a quick learner.

“I feel super comfortable with it,” he said. “I think it’s just gonna be an adjustment. Obviously it’s different playing from five [yards] than it was playing from 10 last year. So I think it’s an adjustment, but I’m super comfortable with it.”

The move did not come out of the blue for Styles, and not just because he played at 235 pounds at times last season. There was talk about the eventual move last season, which gave him the impetus to begin learning the position well before he ever started playing it.

Then when Ohio State went into the transfer portal in January and landed Freshman All-American safety Caleb Downs out of Alabama, the picture became even clearer.

“I knew that I probably was going to be playing linebacker at some point,” Styles said. “So then, obviously when Downs came here, it’s like, ‘Alright, so where can I help the defense the most? If we’re trying to get our best 11 on the field, where can I help the defense the most?’ So that’s what the conversation was. I just want to do whatever I can. Wherever the defense needs me. Wherever I can impact most. So that was the conversation.”

What’s The Difference?

The major differences to this point are that there is less time and space at linebacker, which demands less wasted movement. Longer strides and a false step can be covered up at safety, but linebackers get exposed with bad footwork.

Things happen much quicker when you are closer to the football.

“I think the biggest change will probably be that 10 to five, because it’s a big adjustment because everything’s happening faster and you’ve got to react faster,” Styles said. “Footwork is huge. I think when you see the great linebackers, as soon as the play happens, they’re going. They’re not taking any wasted steps. They’re not false stepping.”

Styles is more focused on short, choppy steps and maintaining his base. But that is something that all linebackers work on. It’s an adjustment, but it’s also not one that he’s completely unfamiliar with.

Nickel By Name, Sam By Trade

Along with playing nickel and safety last year, Sonny Styles also played some Sam linebacker. In fact, most times there was no distinction between the Sam and Nickel. Against certain alignments, however, he was lined up in the box where things were happening quicker.

That experience helped, but it is still a different situation than playing inside at Will linebacker like he’s doing now.

“I think it helped a little bit in terms of physicality, like being in the box, down on the line, but I do think the run fits as a Will and a Sam can be a little different,” he said.

Filling the A gap or dealing with a pulling lineman or spilling the ball to another tackler is a bit new, but it’s not something that is beyond him.

“I think it’s a similar concept,” he said. “It’s almost more like the Sam is to the field and Will is to the boundary. So I think it’s pretty similar, honestly. The only difference is at Sam last year I never really was an interior run fitter, like in the A gap. Going A to B or whatever that might be. So that’s a little different. But I mean, I think I got some of that experience at safety, just from a few yards back. So like I said, the only difference really is now just adjusting to less time and less space.”

The Inevitable

Styles’ size has always been the reason people didn’t expect him to stay at safety forever. There aren’t a lot of 6-foot-4, 235-pound safeties running around for a reason. As linebacker teammate CJ Hicks said about him, “He is a linebacker. Look at him. He was just playing safety.”

Styles will continue to get bigger now that he is training as a linebacker and not a defensive back, which is also something he is enjoying.

“Yeah, I love it. I love competing with the linebackers,” he said. “I think with the DBs, especially in the weight room, I was expected to win. So like when I won it was like, ‘Oh, Sonny won. Oh well.’ But now that I’m with the linebackers, it’s more of a competition. Not any hit to the DBs, I’m 230 going against someone who’s 205 or something, so I’m expected to win. I love the competition aspect of it.”

Trusting The Process

Styles’ father Lorenzo Styles was a two-time All-Big Ten linebacker at Ohio State in 1993 and 1994, so linebacker hasn’t just been in his plans — it’s been in his blood.

The two of them “watch tape all the time,” but Lorenzo does get “a little upset with little footwork and stuff like that,” according to a laughing Styles.

But linebacker is not an easy position to learn, which also makes it a difficult position to play. The thought process needs to move at a faster pace than anywhere else because there is no room for recovery.

And linebackers aren’t just learning their own positions. They need to have an understanding of everything in front of them as well. Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles wanted Sonny Styles to start his career at safety because of how it would eventually help him at linebacker.

Styles is seeing that path pay off for him now.

“I feel like I have a great understanding of the defense,” he said. “I think at safety, I kind of already knew what the linebackers were doing. So now what I’m really starting to learn is exactly every little detail of what the D-line is doing.

“I didn’t know every little aspect of it. I think I’m trying to learn that now because obviously at linebacker you’ve got to be knowing that more. So I think when it’s all said and done, I think I will have a really, really, really good understanding of the defense and knowing exactly what everyone’s doing.”

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