From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about players to watch this upcoming season. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”Player to Watch” articles here.
Ohio State doesn’t rebuild, they reload. There’s a reason why the Buckeyes are a fixture in the top-five, and always in the mix for a College Football Playoff spot. Whenever a star that wore the scarlet and gray in college heads off to the NFL, often there is someone that is just as talented to fill their spot. We saw it after Justin Fields was a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. Ohio State handed the keys to C.J. Stroud, who was a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and broke numerous school passing records.
With the evolution of the internet, social media, and recruiting services, fans are a lot more familiar with recruits even before they step foot in Columbus. The hardcore fans have watched games that recruits played in high school and saw their highlight tapes of, so we already have an idea of what they bring to the table. The only question is are they able to take the next step and still impress when the level of competition is raised when they take the field in college?
Since it is “Players to Watch” week, today we want to know what Ohio State players that weren’t starters last year are you most excited to watch this year? In the 2023 NFL Draft, there were six Ohio State players drafted, and a number of other players signed as undrafted free agents, which means there are some spots open in the starting lineup, most notably on the offensive line and defensive secondary.
Today’s question: Which non-starter from last year’s Ohio State team are you most looking forward to watching this year?
We’d love to hear your choices. Either respond to us on Twitter at @Landgrant33 or leave your choice in the comments.
Brett’s answer: Sonny Styles
While Josh Proctor is back at safety for Ohio State this year, Tanner McCallister and Ronnie Hickman signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents. A prime candidate to take one over at one of the safety spots is Sonny Styles. After playing zero snaps as a true freshman, Styles played the second-most snaps of any Buckeye in the spring game, with his 61 snaps played falling one short of the 62 snaps C.J. Hicks played.
As if Styles wasn’t feeling good about how he performed in the spring game, he’ll have a familiar face playing with him in the secondary, as his brother Lorenzo transferred to Ohio State from Notre Dame. Not that Sonny needed any extra motivation after coming from Pickerington as a two-sport standout, but the addition of his brother will give him some familiarity on the team, as well as someone to push him even harder than his teammates will.
The question is how much will we see Sonny Styles on the field this season? Do you use him as a starter or do you use him in more of a specialized role where he can go all out with his amazing athletic ability? Also, where do you use Styles most? While he can definitely play safety, will he be used at times in a hybrid safety/linebacker role? All these questions are why I think Styles is going to be one of the most interesting Buckeye players to watch this year and see how his role on defense evolves as the coaching staff figures out how best to utilize him.
The obvious answer here is Kyle McCord. While he did start a single game during the 2021 season, he is not a returning starter, and will undoubtedly be QB1 heading into the fall. However, that seems like a cop-out, so would picking either TreVeyon Henderson or Miyan Williams who essentially split starter’s reps in the backfield last season.
Instead, I’m going to join Brett on the defensive side of the equation and go with defensive tackle Mike Hall Jr. In 2022, he had the third most snaps by any Buckeye interior defensive lineman and lodged the best pressure grades of any d-tackle according to Pro Football Focus. Despite having 60 fewer snaps, Hall tied Jack Sawyer for the team lead with 4.5 sacks and was fourth behind starters Tommy Eichenberg, J.T. Tuimoloau, and Zach Harrison with 7.5 tackles for loss.
However, while those numbers are certainly solid, they are even more impressive when you factor in that he played hurt during the last month of the regular season. In the final four games in November, Hall averaged just over 16 snaps, a total he replicated against Georgia. Hall reportedly had the option to shut it down at the end of the season, but opted to keep playing instead.
Coming into his third year in the program, Hall now seems to be firmly entrenched as the man in the middle of the Buckeye defensive line. And, if he remains healthy, he has proven that he has the explosion and game-changing ability to make a difference. If that happens, both Sawyer and Tuimoloau should be able to have a bigger impact on the outside.