Is there hope for Mazi Smith after disappointing rookie year for Cowboys DT? - Reid Hanson, Cowboys Wire
Can the former first-round pick bounce back in his sophomore season?
The 6-foot-3, 337-pound tackle from Michigan was identified as an elite talent throughout the draft process. Named No. 1 on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List, Smith had a rare combination of size, speed and athleticism. He was also fairly raw as a player since he was used in a reactionary Michigan defensive line that isn’t known to always nurture or highlight physical traits.
Smith showed explosiveness in testing but didn’t show it on tape. He had the traits to potentially be a pass-rusher, but with 0.5 career sacks, he didn’t have the proof on game film. Smith was both ultra talented and ultra raw. He was a big swing for the Cowboys in the first round because his value was almost exclusively projection.
Like most developmental projects, Smith’s career got off to a slow start. The man used predominantly as a space-eater in college was presumably asked to be more aggressive in Dallas. Smith lost a noticeable amount of weight early and was often seen working at the 3-technique DT spot rather than the 1-technique spot most scouts slotted him for.
Smith struggled in every area of the game as a rookie. He was slow off the snap, offered little to no pressure through the gaps and was even ineffective against the run. He was a liability on most plays, playing just 304 snaps on a defense starved for DT play.
Until the Cowboys install their new defense and set individual roles, it’s unknown what the immediate future holds for Smith. Will he be the 1-tech he projected to be as a prospect or will he mentor under Osa Odighizuwa to become a 3-tech? It’s possible the Cowboys might have a role in mind that involves a little bit of both.
Examining how Dan Quinn’s replacement will alter the Cowboys’ defense.
After a short interviewing process, the Dallas Cowboys have tapped former Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer as the defensive coordinator in 2024. Zimmer was immediately sought after by Dallas; interviewing alongside other former head coaches and in-house options, but the former Cowboys assistant won the team over. The move signals that Dallas wants somebody with extensive experience and an intensity that some would say was missing under now-Commanders Head Coach, Dan Quinn.
Major Staff Shakeup
Dallas has lost two major assistant coaches since the off-season started with Joe Whitt Jr heading to Washington and defensive line coach, Aden Durde, going to Seattle. Both of these departures were to get defensive coordinator jobs, which means we have not gotten to Zimmer’s changes to the staff yet. The familiarity aspect with the current defensive staff is not going to be enough to deter Zimmer from bringing in his guys, even if it means some bitter-sweet goodbyes.
One coach you can expect Zimmer to at least pursue, is current Giants defensive line coach and former co-defensive coordinator under Zimmer in Minnesota, Andre Patterson. With Durde’s departure leaving the defensive line coach spot vacant, Patterson, who coached in Dallas with Zimmer from 2000-2002, and then in Minnesota with him for his entire tenure, is a replacement that makes a lot of sense.
Naturally, a change in defensive coordinator brings a change to the defensive scheme, and that is true in the shift from Quinn to Zimmer. In fact, the way Zimmer likes to run his defense runs directly into one area Dallas may look to improve on this offseason.
The middle of the defense, both on the defensive line, with the linebackers, and deep with safeties, is crucial for success in Zimmer’s scheme. He is known for creating the AA gap scheme, which essentially spreads out the defensive line and uses two linebackers either both hitting the A-gap to generate pressure in the backfield or one dropping back into coverage.
Amid the disappointment of the Cowboys early playoff loss, the veteran cornerback and wants to pick up where he left off with the Cowboys.
Among those in Las Vegas this week taking in the Super Bowl festivities are a handful of Dallas Cowboys who have been making the rounds with the media availabilities, including wide receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Stephon Gilmore – with the latter taking in his final guaranteed weeks with the team before hitting free agency in March.
The two reflected on the season’s abrupt end in 2023 after the Super Wild Card loss to the Green Bay Packers, as Gilmore echoed the feelings that were felt even immediately after the game and how falling short of expectations still hurts with the Super Bowl set to kickoff this weekend.
“You never want to lose in the playoffs, especially against a team that you thought you could handle,” Gilmore said on The Ticket on Friday.
Despite the loss, Gilmore sees an opportunity for the Cowboys to still make a run in 2024, and he was open about wanting to be a part of it ahead of free agency discussion.
“For sure, I want to be back,” Gilmore told The Fan. “I for sure think we have the pieces to get to where we want to be, and I want to be a part of that. March is when free agency starts, so hopefully we can get something done. I want to run it back with B. Cooks and all of these guys, have the opportunity to play with Bland another year and Trevon coming back off the ACL.”
The Cowboys enter an important offseason – one that Jerry Jones made headlines for a couple of weeks ago when he said they would “not build it for the future” by going all-in on what they have. For Gilmore, he sees a similar need to reach the ultimate goal, even knowing that his offseason will look a bit different as he recovers from shoulder surgery that is expected to sideline him for a good amount of time.
“I think we have enough,” he told The Fan. “If I’m back, we have to make some moves to fix the things we weren’t well at last year to be better. You gotta leave that up to the GMs and coaches and the people in the front office to make those decisions.”
Making the case for the addition of Mike Zimmer as defensive coordinator.
The situation came with some obvious limitations. It is the final, make-or-break year for head coach Mike McCarthy. That limited the opportunity to get an up-and-coming young defensive mind for the position. That is not the way they roll at The Star anyway, but it may have played a part in why they did not wind up promoting Joe Whitt or Aden Durde from within, with both of them now going elsewhere as defensive coordinators. If McCarthy does not prove he is able to take this team further in the playoffs, there will be a general housecleaning which will probably include the DC position.
They needed a coach who was comfortable with that. Zimmer is getting back into coaching after a couple of years off, although he did work with Deion Sanders at Jackson State in a consulting role. This is his chance to show he still can be an asset for a team and continue his career if his stay in Dallas is brief. He was similar to two other candidates that were interviewed, Ron Rivera and Rex Ryan, in that respect.
So why was Zimmer the best option? With the Cowboys, familiarity is a big factor. He served as a former assistant and defensive coordinator with the team from 1994 until 2006, a very long run. It included the last Super Bowl win by Dallas. That had to have been a big plus for Jerry Jones. He yearns to recreate the glory years of the 1990s. Obviously the two know each other very well and anticipate a good working relationship. Having coached against each other, he and McCarthy also should have a good feel for how they can work together. Zimmer is going to be a strong presence, just like Quinn was. That is good both for a team with an offensive-minded head coach, and even more so when the organization is led by Jerry Jones.
There is the thought that Zimmer might be seen as a possible candidate to replace McCarthy, but that is not something to dwell on right now. The media will certainly be speculating on that soon enough.The most important thing is how well Zimmer will do his job. Our David Howman has already done a great job breaking down how he uses his front seven and his secondary, and if you haven’t read them already, you should correct that oversight. Some of the personnel the Cowboys have look like great fits for him, but the management will need to add some more talent to fill some holes.
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