When the offseason first began for the Dallas Cowboys none of us had any idea what we were in store for. Looking back now it is almost difficult to remember the days before Dallas traded for Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks. If you recall. though, our cups were already plenty full to that point in initial roster construction as the Cowboys had brought back both Leighton Vander Esch and Donovan Wilson. Adding Gilmore and Cooks felt like cherries on top.
But there was more to come, specifically in terms of retaining players currently on the team. The Cowboys made it a point to bring back players who they felt like were significant contributors to their success last season and one of them happened to be a different trade acquisition in defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.
At last season’s trade deadline many criticized the Cowboys for not pulling off any deals, forgetting that they traded for Hankins one week before the deadline itself. Hankins became a critical player in terms of run defense and that the team was able to bring him back was a huge win.
It appears the move is paying off in a different way as well.
Johnathan Hankins is apparently a ‘willing mentor’ for rookie Mazi Smith
While it was a big win that Dallas was able to retain Hankins, they were not able to pitch a perfect game on the defensive tackle front as a whole in free agency. Dallas lost Carlos Watkins to the Arizona Cardinals in free agency.
It is hard to know how big or small of a factor that was when it comes to the 2023 NFL Draft as the Cowboys selected Michigan DT Mazi Smith with their first selection. Smith became the first defensive tackle taken with a Cowboys first-round pick since 1991 and has now joined Hankins along with veterans Osa Odighizuwa and Neville Gallimore.
Life as a rookie can never be easy and obviously playing for the Cowboys brings with it a different sort of expectation level. It appears that Johnathan Hankins is helping Smith adjust however he can as a mentor.
26. Mazi Smith, DT, Dallas Cowboys
How he has fared so far: The Cowboys did not do any 11-on-11 work during the organized team activities or minicamp, so making any judgment on Smith is difficult because so much of what he will do is about his size (6-3, 325) and strength. But what the offseason work allowed Smith to do was learn what the coaches will want from him technically, and they have said he has picked everything up fast. He has a willing mentor in veteran Johnathan Hankins.
“You can tell on tape for a big man, [Smith] bends extremely well and obviously very strong. Everyone knows that,” All-Pro guard Zack Martin said. “He’s going to be a great addition to our team. We should have some good battles in training camp.” — Todd Archer
It is far from easy to come into the NFL and to play well in the trenches, something that Zack Martin (who is quoted here) knows all about. So having anyone in his corner will surely have a positive impact on Smith.
It seems that Hankins is really high not just on Smith but the defensive line group as a whole. From a conversation he had earlier this month with the mothership:
“It’s nice to see a Michigan guy get drafted in the first round, even though I’m a Buckeye,” said Hankins while wearing his signature ear-to-ear grin. “Dude is probably one of the strongest guys on the team. I’m definitely honored to be able to mentor him, show him the way and try to help him develop.”
Smith was seen lining up not in rotation with Hankins on Day 2 of minicamp, but to his right on packages that suggest both will be on the field at the same time — evidence the Cowboys aren’t kidding around when they say Smith will be utilized as both a run-stopper and a pass rusher.
It’s yet another nuclear bomb at the disposal of Dan Quinn, whose stockade is now to a point that he and the Cowboys might soon get a call from NATO about Dallas’ proliferation of weapons.
“That D-line room is nasty,” said Hankins, shaking his head in literal amazement. “Every time I talk about it, I’m just so excited and not just to talk about it, but to be a part of it. We’re working hard, getting each other better and we’re some bad (MFers). That’s just the way we do things, and that’s what our motto is.”
There is a lot of continuity across the Cowboys defense and it all obviously starts with coordinator Dan Quinn. A tight bond and brotherhood from front to back will only help throughout the rigors of the season. Ideally the Cowboys can finally break through in a way that we have not seen in a really long time.