Ohio State spring football begins: Sonny Styles’ switch, QB competition and more takeaways

Ohio State began spring football practice on Tuesday, and though the first day might not offer definitive answers about the depth chart, there were some interesting changes. Here’s what caught my eye during Tuesday’s brief open period:

Styles working with linebackers

This might be the only time I write about practice access this spring and the linebackers are mentioned before the quarterbacks, but Sonny Styles working with the linebackers is a big deal.

Styles, who checked into spring football at 6 feet 4 and 235 pounds, played safety his first two years at Ohio State and was the No. 1 safety recruit in the 2022 class. He proved to be a versatile player in the secondary who could come up and play the run but also hold his own in coverage.

“We know his skill set is versatile,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “You will see him at linebacker and also see him do some other things as time goes on.”

Styles stood out as a run-stopper last year, and with Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers gone, the idea of moving Styles to linebacker makes sense. Tuesday was the first time we had confirmation of the move. He worked with the linebackers in the open portion of practice, giving the Buckeyes an interesting lineup.

Cody Simon is the leader there and is likely to fill Eichenberg’s spot. But new linebackers coach James Laurinaitis will have to find a good mix between Styles and C.J. Hicks, because Hicks can’t be on the bench again this season, either.

It’s likely they share reps at the will linebacker spot, like Chambers and Simon did last year, and they could be on the field together in hybrid formations. We’ll learn more about Ohio State’s plans with Styles on Thursday when defensive coordinator Jim Knowles speaks to the media.

For now, this was a massive development. Ohio State’s biggest defensive weakness was linebacker, on paper, but the trio of Styles, Simon and Hicks offers a lot of upside despite the veteran losses. There’s inexperience, but the potential is sky high.

Don’t read too much into Devin Brown’s share of first-team reps Tuesday. (Adam Cairns / Columbus Dispatch / USA Today Network)

Don’t read much into QB reps

There wasn’t much to report from the quarterbacks on Tuesday. Devin Brown led most of the reps reporters saw, but that’s not surprising.

All over the field, returning players got the nod for the first reps. It was also evident that this was the case when Carson Hinzman was leading center reps over Alabama transfer Seth McLaughlin. In other words: Don’t look too deep into the fact that Brown was taking the first reps over Kansas State transfer Will Howard.

Both Brown and Howard made some good throws but missed a few. Lincoln Kienholz is bigger than he was last year, checking in at 6 feet 3 and 207 pounds after being listed at 6-2, 200 pounds in 2023. He looked good throwing on the move.

Five-star freshmen Air Noland and Julian Sayin had some first-practice shakiness early, though their talent is obvious. When throwing on the move into the net, they had some sharply accurate passes. Noland was especially accurate throwing to the running backs during a side drill.

It’s hard to get a read on much yet, but the talking point about competition being great for this group is real. There’s a lot of talent, and the cream will eventually rise to the top.

No timeline was set on the quarterback decision by Day or new offensive coordinator Chip Kelly. Day did say that the transfer portal windows have changed the process slightly.

“We have a bunch of guys in that room,” Day said. “We’re hoping to see some dilation as the spring goes on.”



Despite year of setbacks, Ohio State QB Devin Brown is still battling

Smith makes strong first impression

Wide receiver Jeremiah Smith, the No. 1 recruit in the 2024 class, walked onto the field Monday during media availability to catch passes with Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka and Reis Stocksdale.

He looked big then from afar. Up close, he looks nothing like a freshman. He’s 6-4 and 215 pounds entering the spring, and if somebody didn’t already know he was a true freshman, he could be mistaken for a third-year player.

The hype around Smith is going to be out of this world, which I get. Egbuka, Carnell Tate and Jayden Ballard took the first reps of the early period at receiver Tuesday and Smith will need time to adjust to the offense and college football in general, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll be on the field early and often this fall.

An O-line adjustment

I stand by the fact that these depth charts mean nothing on the first day. Still, there was an interesting adjustment on the offensive line.

In one of the first periods we could watch, the offense was walking through some plays and the starting offensive line had Josh Fryar at right tackle and Luke Montgomery at right guard.

It’s the first day, and I expected Ohio State to try some new lineups this spring to see what works best. I just didn’t think we’d see Montgomery inside.

We think he has a very, very high ceiling,” Day said of Montgomery. “He played tackle last year and did some good things. We think he can still play tackle but we also want to look at him at guard because it’s an open spot. But with his quickness he can get on guys.”

This isn’t a set it and forget move by Ryan, Justin Frye and the staff. It’s likely just something they want to try out to start the spring. I do think Ohio State is moving more and more to the idea that Montgomery is going to play a significant role in the fall, which means Tegra Tshabola could be the odd man out unless he has a dynamite spring session. He did take reps at right tackle, though.

As expected, the left side of the line was the same with Josh Simmons at tackle and Donovan Jackson at guard.

Two punters taking reps

One thing that went overlooked most of the offseason was punter Jesse Mirco entering the transfer portal. He landed at Vanderbilt, and Ohio State didn’t bring in a big name to replace him.

There were two players taking punting reps on Tuesday. Austin Snyder is back and split time with Hadi Jawad, who is a new name on the roster after playing at Wayne State last year. Jawad is a walk-on who has one year of eligibility left and averaged 40.1 yards per punt in 2022 within nine downed inside the 20-yard line.

They’ll compete for the starting job, a competition that likely won’t be finished until right before the season.

(Top photo of Sonny Styles: Scott W. Grau / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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