Lorenzo Styles, Jr. Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State Football Notebook: ‘I’m just a playmaker when the ball is in my hands’

Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood

When receiver Bryson Rodgers decided to come back to Ohio State after spending two weeks in the transfer portal, the Buckeye coaching staff breathed a sigh of relief. Even though the OSU receiver room is talented, it was not overly deep.

Rodgers’ return made the room deeper, but it also made it better. There’s a reason he was recruited, after all.

“He can fly,” said teammate Carnell Tate. “He’s fast. Super fast. Twitchy. He can change direction super quick. He can probably change directions the fastest in the room right now. Super twitchy and quick.”

Rodgers’ return and development are two reasons why receivers coach Brian Hartline is looking to move slot receiver Emeka Egbuka around this year. With Rodgers and classmate Brandon Inniss stepping up in the slot, there is more freedom to move other parts around.

As to what the Buckeyes will get when Hartline has Bryson Rodgers out on the field, it’s pretty simple.

“A playmaker. Great route runner. Versatile,” Rodgers said. “I just love making plays and I love winning. I mean, that’s what Coach Hart preaches to us, just having that elite competitive excellence and keeping that fierce competitor in you. I feel like I bring that. A lot of speed. A lot of downfield plays I can make and just really keep the defense on their heels, and just give us the best opportunity to win football games. So that’s what I’m here to do.”

Nickel For Your Thoughts

With Denzel Burke and Jordan Hancock opting to return for their senior seasons, the Ohio State cornerback and nickel back positions remain optimized. Had either of those players opted to leave for the NFL, the next man up very likely would have been rising sophomore Jermaine Mathews, Jr.

Mathews was outstanding last year as a true freshman, seeing defensive snaps in eight games, including a spot start. But with both starters returning outside, Mathews understands his snaps might be hard to come by.

What is he expecting his role to be there year?

“I think just a guy that can play anywhere in the back end, just a guy that can help in special teams,” he said. “Wherever they need me at this year, I’m just gonna go out there and give it my all that.”

In a typical year, Mathews would be preparing for a starting job right now. He is still preparing like a starter, however, and he is also working at nickel this spring so that he is able to help wherever the need might arise.

“Yeah, I’ve been in the nickel a lot this spring,” he said. “I’ve been going back and forth. So it’s been a new transition for me but it’s really not that new. I played some nickel in high school. I really didn’t play that much last year because I was just trying to get into the groove of college football. But I’m back to it.”

There are differences between corner and nickel, of course, but Mathews’ quickness and agility make him a good fit at both spots.

“I think it’s just a two-way go that you get from being in a slot,” he said of nickel’s difference from cornerback. “You can go inside, outside. And if you press, it’s the catch technique compared to backpedaling. And you’ve got the sideline. The sideline’s an extra defender. It can help you at certain times.”

A Return To Returning

The date was November 27, 2010. The player was Jordan Hall.

If this was Jeopardy, the next line would be, “What is the last time Ohio State had a kickoff return for a touchdown?”

The Buckeyes have gone 13 seasons without a kickoff return touchdown. It has been nine years without a punt return touchdown. Rules have impacted kickoff returns and Australians have impacted punt returns.

Ohio State defensive back Lorenzo Styles, Jr. would sure like an opportunity to spice things up in the return game, however. Especially on kickoffs.

“I could be the punt returner but I want to get back there on kickoff return,” he said. “I’ve done that before at Notre Dame. I feel real comfortable back there. I could do punt return as well, but I feel like I’m just a playmaker when the ball is in my hands. I can use my athleticism, use my speed and go make some plays back there for the team.”

Styles, who transferred to Ohio State from Notre Dame last year, returned two kickoffs for 64 yards as a sophomore.

The Buckeyes last year returned just 13 kickoffs and 17 punts total. There has been very little emphasis on the return game for Ohio State of late, but that may be changing. And Styles and some of his defensive cohorts are trying to campaign for larger roles.

“Yeah, we’ve been emphasizing it,” Styles said. “We’re trying to get some defensive dudes back there and make it shake a little. But yeah, I want to go back there and get back on kickoff return for sure. And I feel like my coaches trust me back there. So just when I get back there, go make a play.”

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