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Three Questions for Oklahoma State’s Defensive Line Room Entering the 2024 Season

On pressuring the quarterback, new ends stepping up and dominating the interior.



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

We end our three offseason questions series with a position group that got a new coach heading into 2024.

Paul Randolph is set to take over Oklahoma State’s defensive line after spending the past two seasons at Indiana. Here are three questions I have for his group entering his first season.

Need to catch up? Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Offensive Line | Safeties | Corners | Linebackers

1. How Will the Group Manufacture More Pressure on the Quarterback?

Pressuring the quarterback was a staple in the latter years of Jim Knowles’ OSU tenure, but in Year 1 under Bryan Nardo, OSU had just 15 sacks in Big 12 play — ranking ninth in the conference.

Of the 27 sacks the Cowboys finished the whole year with, just 11 came from defensive linemen — as linebackers Collin Oliver and Nick Martin combined for a dozen.

To a certain extent, we know how the Cowboys are trying to answer this question. Mike Gundy said this spring that the Cowboys will play more four-down fronts in 2024. Not only will that vary looks for opposing offensive lines, but it will also allow Oliver to resume his role as an edge rusher, where he was so successful as a freshman and sophomore.

With the young secondary the Cowboys had in 2023, stretches where OSU couldn’t get pressure on the quarterback proved extra costly. But that can go the other way, too — a more experience secondary can make a defensive line look better. Well, with the moves OSU is making up front and that young secondary being a little more experienced, this aspect should be better for the Pokes in 2024.

2. Which Ends Will Step Up?

Anthony Goodlow and Nathan Latu led OSU defensive linemen in sacks last season with three each. Both are gone.

Oliver spending more time on the edge will help this cause, but the Cowboys will need some new faces to step into the spotlight.

Kody Walterscheid and Xavier Ross are two experienced returners. Entering their super senior seasons, Walterscheid has played in 50 games and Ross in 30.

Jaleel Johnson and DeSean Brown both showed bright spots as redshirt freshmen last season. Johnson had 12 tackles in 12 games, including a sack against Kansas State. Brown played in all 14 games, wracking up seven tackles and a half sack. Landon Dean and Jaedon Foreman are also young guys to keep an eye on.

Among newcomers, the Cowboys grabbed Obi Ezeigbo from Gannon, Nardo’s former squad. He looks the part at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, but the jump from Division II to Division I shouldn’t be understated. He had 54 tackles with Gannon last season, including 10.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.

Incoming freshman Armstrong Nnodim also turned a few heads in his early enrollee spring with his work in the weight room.

“Armstrong, I will say, is able to hold his own on the physical side of it, defensively,” Gundy said.

So, the Cowboys have capable bodies. It’s just about fitting the puzzle together.

3. How Dominant Can Clay and Kirkland Be?

The Cowboys’ group of defensive tackles/nose tackles is up there among their most impressive groups on the roster.

It starts with Collin Clay and Justin Kirkland. That tandem got the majority of the work last season, combining for 36 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. That might not sound all too impressive, but a lot of their job description was to eat double teams and let other guys fly in and bring down the ball carrier. That’s partly how OSU ended up with three players with at least 100 tackles.

The two have a combined weight of 675 pounds, and it’s strong weight, as their teammates laud their abilities in the weight room.

Those two dominating the interior of the line of scrimmage ought to play a big role in OSU having another successful season.

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