Versatile safety Sonny Styles embracing bigger role in Ohio State defense

COLUMBUS — Before the season, Ohio State coaches confirmed they needed to find a way to get Sonny Styles onto the field.

Now they can’t find a way to take him off.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore started the year without a clear place to play in a veteran defense, so coordinator Jim Knowles and safeties coach Perry Eliano turned him into a jumbo-sized nickel back.

He shared that spot with Jordan Hancock until senior Lathan Ransom had to leave the Wisconsin game three weeks ago with a lower body injury.

With Ransom out for at least the rest of the regular season, his “Bandit” position belongs to Styles, and the early returns are positive.

He had 10 tackles and forced a fumble at Rutgers two weeks ago, and he logged three tackles and a sack last week against Michigan State.

“When Lathan went down, that hurt us,” said Styles, who was a five-star prospect at Pickerington Central in the Columbus suburbs. “I had to step up and play that boundary safety so going from 30 plays to 70 plays, that’s a little bit of an adjustment, but I think I did fine.”

Knowles said once he got used to seeing such a big guy play lining up so far from the line of scrimmage, everything looked natural with Styles joining senior Josh Proctor as the last line of defense.

Styles practiced at Bandit in the spring, and he said he worked at all three safety positions last year as a true freshman.

Bandit might be his most natural position because it has less coverage responsibility than the Nickel and frequently ends up being part of the run defense structure, which defensive coaches call the “fit.”

“I think at Bandit you saw it a lot with Lathan like on third-and-short he was shooting the gap,” Styles said. “You’re in the fit a lot.”

He added that coverages don’t change much, either. The Bandit often will be hanging out on the second level looking for receivers in curl, hook or flat patterns, but either deep safety could find himself playing a deep zone as well.

The Nickel will have more man coverage duty, but his position off the corner of the defense also allowed Knowles to utilized Styles as a linebacker at times without changing personnel.

“You get to show similar attributes,” Styles said. “To the field, you just get more space.”

About the Author