February is a time to review the previous season and set a plan in place to develop and evaluate players in spring practice.
A key part of that evaluation is exploring any potential position changes that could make sense. Two are top of mind for Ohio State: Sonny Styles and Josh Fryar.
Styles was the No. 1 safety in the 247Sports composite rankings for the recruiting class of 2022 despite reclassifying to graduate a year early. But last year brought questions about his long-term viability at the safety position.
Styles started at nickel for the first half of last season, rotating with Jordan Hancock at the position. Hancock proved much more adept at guarding slot receivers and dropping back into zone coverage, making Styles more of an option against multiple-tight end sets where he could almost play as a third linebacker.
Following an injury to Lathan Ransom during Ohio State’s eighth game of the season, Styles took over as bandit safety for the Buckeyes’ homestretch. However, there were struggles for the Ohio native, who looked uncomfortable in deep zone coverage and taking angles on runners in the open field, which showed up in the Buckeyes’ losses against both Michigan and Missouri.
That’s why a move to linebacker could make sense.
“We’ve had conversations with Sonny and he has a lot of flexibility to do a lot of different things, which is great,” Ryan Day said. “He’s embracing some of those things. So as we get into spring, we’ll start to figure out exactly how those will all shake out. But when you see Sonny, he has the flexibility to do multiple different things.”
Styles’ best plays came from inside or near the box, a big part of why he collected 53 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in 2023.
Will linebacker is the spot that not only seems most logical for Styles, but it also might be the only position on the Buckeyes’ entire defense that isn’t spoken for already. Ransom and star Alabama transfer Caleb Downs can be penciled in as the team’s starting deep safeties and Hancock is back to play the nickel, where he found great success last season.
Meanwhile, departures from both Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers leave the Will linebacker spot unoccupied for the time being.
Day has been impressed with Styles’ approach to learning different positions, giving him the versatility to play multiple roles.
“(It’s) not only because of his skill set in terms of his size but also his mental makeup,” Day said. “He’s really willing to embrace some of those different roles and that’s exciting because it gives us a lot of flexibility with the defense.”
Flexibility is also something that Day feels Fryar possesses.
As Ohio State searches for its best lineup on the right side of the offensive line, Day left the possibility on the table that Fryar could move inside from tackle to guard to replace a graduated Matt Jones.
“Josh has a little bit of swing capability there, so he’s gonna be on the right side right now,” Day said. “We’re gonna take a look to see what the right combination will be on the right side now that we’ve lost Matt. He’s gonna play tackle, he’s gonna play a little bit of guard and we’ll kind of see how that shakes out as the spring goes on.”
“He’s gonna play tackle, he’s gonna play a little bit of guard and we’ll kind of see how that shakes out as the spring goes on.”– Ryan Day on the possibility of Josh Fryar moving to guard
Fryar’s punch in the running game earned him a first-team All-Big Ten selection from the media and third-team honors from the coaches this past season, but his struggles against pure speed rushers off the edge caused occasional lapses throughout the year that became especially detrimental in the Cotton Bowl.
“There’s certainly things that I think, being a first-time starter there this year, that he did well but certainly areas that, if we’re gonna reach our goals, he’s gonna have to improve on,” Day said. “He knows that. But playing guard is something that we’ll take a peek at this spring and see if that’s right.”
Such a peek could be good for Fryar’s NFL aspirations, Day added.
“He does bring some flexibility there, which I think is good for his long-term football career as well,” Day said. “Going on to the NFL, going on to a team and being able to play guard and tackle is valuable.”
Part of the determination as to whether Fryar sticks at guard or moves to tackle could be the development of the players around him.
Tegra Tshabola and Luke Montgomery are third- and second-year road-graders trying to pave a path to the field for themselves on the right side among a mix of both young and veteran Buckeyes of the offensive line.
“Huge, huge spring for both those guys, and that’s not the only guys,” Day said. “There’s a bunch of other guys in that room, this is a huge spring for them.”
Whether it’s Fryar, Styles or any other player, Day said one of the most important factors in deciding whether a position change is appropriate is the feedback of that person.
The athlete has to buy in and believe that the switch is what’s best for him. That’s what Day said made Cade Stover’s move from linebacker to tight end and Chambers’ move from running back to linebacker work out in the long run.
“You have to want to embrace these types of things, just like with Sonny,” Day said while speaking on Fryar. “It was the same thing when Cade made his move, Steele made his move. When guys make those moves, you really want guys to take ownership of it, not just because the coaches told you to do it. So his feedback will be important, he’s been in the program for a while and he’s a guy that has leadership.”
The experimentation for Fryar and Styles will begin in about a month when the Buckeyes begin spring practices in March.