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Spring Football: A Defensive Line Switch That Could Utilize the Cowboys’ Playmakers

OSU needs to get back to wreaking havoc in opposing backfields.



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

Spring practice is now complete, and we’ve got a long summer before fall camp starts in August. In the meantime, let’s continue our look at OSU’s position groups.

The Oklahoma State defense hit some struggles over the back half of last season, dinged up with injury and still adjusting to a new system under Bryan Nardo as the competition stiffened. But now it’s Year 2 and the defense needs to step up if the Cowboys, who return one their most experienced and talented offenses in some time, can live up to their potential.

Let’s look at the defensive position groups starting up front with the defensive line. Be sure to also check out our previous previews: QB | RB | WR | TE | OL

Who’s Back

The Cowboys lost most of its starts on the edge this offseason with defensive ends Anthony Goodlow and Nathan Latu gone, but still returns Kody Walterscheid (17 starts) and Xavier Ross (four). Although a clue from spring practice should ease fans’ minds. More on that below.

On the inside, the Pokes return both nose tackles that made starts last year in Collin Clay and Justin Kirkland, two big guys who are tough to block. Clay was a double-team monster in the three-man front last year, he could pose even more trouble for opposing blockers. Also back are DeSean Brown and Jaleel Johnson who saw the field last year.

Also, (sort of) back is Collin Oliver.

Oliver made the switch to linebacker last season and is still listed as such on the roster. But the Cowboys are expected play four defensive linemen more often this fall than last, and it would be hard to imagine one of those lineups that didn’t include Oliver. And he even alluded to as much earlier in spring ball, stating that OSU was going to be playing more four-man fronts and that he would be playing the role of edge rusher.

“I love it,” Oliver said of lining up on the edge. “And we’re in the Big 12 too, with the teams we play, pass rushing’s going to be very important and that’s what the four-man front brings to the table. You get your best pass rushers out there in certain stack passages so, yeah I love it.”

Who’s New

The Cowboys added Obi Ezeigbo by way of Gannon University, Bryan Nardo’s former school. Ezeigbo brings with him 37 games of experience in which he logged 108 tackles, 25 TFLs and 14 sacks.

The Cowboys also added an early enrollee who might just vie for early action. Armstrong Nnodim has already made a splash in the weight room this spring.

“He’s young, but he’s gonna get it,” said senior linebacker Collin Oliver. “Dude power cleaned the same weight I did, 365 as freshman. That tells you all you need to know about his strength and it’s in the name.”

Oliver also lauded Nnodim for how he takes on coaching early. “He’s gonna be real good. He’s gonna be real good.”

Also new is veteran DL coach Paul Randolph who arrived in Stillwater ahead of the spring after spending the last two years at Indiana. Randolph replaced Greg Richmond who spent six years coaching the D-Line.

Number That Matters: 4

When the 2021 Cowboys boasted a Top 10 scoring defense, they did so with no small credit due to their nation’s best four sacks per game. But in the last two years the Pokes have averaged 2.0 and 1.93 respectively, good for the middle of the Big 12.

The sack numbers aren’t the entire story, but just as Oliver stated above, getting to the QB is paramount in this league. If the changes OSU is making up front can push that number higher, the Cowboys will be able to get off the field quicker and give the ball back to their experienced offense.

DL Outlook

With a new coach and some tweaking of personnel, the Cowboys hope their D-Line will be one of the best in the Big 12 this season, and there’s reason for optimism.

The Cowboys lost some experience in the trenches but with them moving some of their more talented pass rushers, like Oliver, back to the edge, they shouldn’t miss a beat. If they can create a little more havoc in opposing backfields, the defensive line should be a strength for the Cowboys.

Spring DL Depth Chart Prediction

Here’s how we see the pecking order shaping out after spring practice. We went with a four-down look to get as many names on it as possible.

DE: Collin Oliver
DT: Collin Clay
DT: Justin Kirkland
DE: Kody Walterscheid

DE: DeSean Brown/Jaleel Johnson
DT: Iman Oates
DT: Aden Kelley
DE: Obi Ezeigbo

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