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

On the young core, newcomer Kobe Hylton and Kendal Daniels.

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[Devin Wilber/PFB]

We’ve asked 15 offseason questions about the Cowboys’ offense, and now it’s time to flip to the defensive side of the ball.

First up on Oklahoma State’s defense is the safeties.

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

1. How Much Better Will the Young Core Be?

A lot of players on the back end of OSU’s defense got thrown into the fire last season, and OSU should be better for it in 2024.

Guys like Cameron Epps and Dylan Smith got their first true taste of college football, and then there was Lyrik Rawls, who played in 2022 but was expected to be a key cog last season before an injury saw him miss most of the year.

They all had their moments. Epps had a trio of interceptions. Two of those came against Kansas State — including a game-altering pick-six at the end of the first half [see below]. Smith, as a true freshman, came up with a big interception against Oklahoma in an obviously important game for the fanbase. And Rawls had 20 tackles in the three games he played in and got OSU on the board in terms of INTs with his pick in Tempe that was a turning point in that game. Rawls will be a redshirt junior in 2024, so “young” for him at this point might be a little loose. But considering this team has a seventh-year quarterback, maybe not.

If that group can take a step forward this year and maybe even bring some other young guys along, the future of the position will be in a good spot.

2. How Will Kobe Hylton Factor In?

To counteract some of the youth at the position, the Cowboys brought in an experienced transfer to help bridge the gap in Kobe Hylton.

Hylton is a college football journeyman, having played at Long Island, NEO, Louisiana and most recently UTEP. In two seasons with the Miners, Hylton earned honorable mention All-Conference USA honors twice.

Here is what Mike Gundy said about him this spring:

“You can tell he’s experienced,” Gundy said. “He’s played a lot. He’s gonna be mature and physical enough — he’s fast enough. Now he’s learning new terminology, new schemes, new concepts. But he’s what we thought when we brought him in here. He gives us that extra experience to help several of the young guys at that position get through another year. Because those guys, as we develop them, they can compete and play sparingly, but hopefully Kobe can carry more of a load.”

Should Hylton be able to hold his own, it could play a role in allowing Kendal Daniels to move closer to the line of scrimmage, which we’ll get to. And Hylton, Daniels and Trey Rucker would make for a rather experienced set of safeties. That could allow the Cowboys’ young talent to be ramped up gradually into bigger roles rather than jumping straight into the deep end.

3. What Is Kendal Daniels?

Defensive positions are rather fluid here in 2024 AD. That’s a concept that has been popularized more and more over recent years, with former Clemson defender Isaiah Simmons leading that discussion.

Is Simmons a linebacker? A safety? An edge rusher? I don’t know. With Kendal Daniels now listed at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, he fits into that same category. At 230 pounds, Daniels would be the fourth heaviest linebacker on the team. Colin Oliver and Nickolas Martin, for example, are listed at 235 and 210, respectively.

“Kendal went from 204 to almost 240 now,” Gundy said. “That’s why we’re doing some things with him. We can bring him down and invert him now, play him in a standup position closer to the ball. He’s more valuable. But we can move him back and let him cover the middle of the field if we want to some. His long term will be closer to the ball, but I don’t know that anybody knew that he would get to almost 240 pounds. He projected more than what we thought.”

Whether Daniels is listed as a linebacker or a safety won’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but seeing how he gets used in 2024 is one of the most intriguing parts about a team that, for the most part, is the same personnel-wise as it was in 2023.

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