Mike Zimmer details plan to improve the performance of DT Mazi Smith

The Dallas Cowboys decided to bolster the interior of their defensive line in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. They selected Mazi Smith out of Michigan, one of the top defensive tackles in the college ranks, and the hope was that he would be the force in the middle that the Cowboys needed, especially against the run where they have had issues for quite a while.

Smith’s rookie campaign didn’t go as smoothly as planned. He appeared in all 17 games but logged just three starts and played only 304 snaps. Smith finished with a pedestrian 13 tackles (three tackles for loss) and one sack. For whatever reason, whether it be a lack of coaching, a change in his weight/role, or simply not adjusting to the NFL game quick enough, Smith’s effectiveness as a rookie was minimal at best to the point that he was pretty much an afterthought. That simply can’t happen with a draft pick that high, and something certainly needs to change going into his second year.

Well, new defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer laid out a plan to get Smith back to the level that made him a dominant force with the Wolverines.

“Obviously, he was a high draft pick,” said Zimmer. “I heard that he kinda struggled last year, so we’re gonna start with the basics: get him in a good stance, get him using his hands the right way, getting his footwork the right way and then go from there.

“I talked to him yesterday and asked him what weight he felt comfortable at, so we’ve gotta get him to that point first and then get his strength back, and then we’ll let him go out here on the field. We anticipate he’s gonna be a good player like he was in college, and that’s how we have to go.”

Smith entered the league at around 330 pounds. At Michigan, he was a run-stuffing nose tackle that ate up double teams like a Thanksgiving turkey. However, his weight went under 300 pounds last season, and he resembled more of a 3-tech attacking up field. That’s where the biggest mismanagement came with Smith. He wasn’t asked to be what got him to the level.

Zimmer plans on getting him back to the disruptive force he was instantly expected to be in Dallas.

“We’re gonna probably play blocks a little bit more, and try not to get reached so linebackers know where they’re supposed to fit — so forth and so on,” he said of Smith. “That’s the biggest thing. … Yeah, it’s what he did in college.”

Zimmer also plans to make a change to the coaching structure on game day as he will be on the sideline, ready to help Smith. or any other player. who needs quick on-the-field adjustments.

Smith’s ability to be an anchor as a nose tackle is key. The more double teams he can draw will single up a guy like Osa Odighizuwa, who plays the 3-technique, which will also create some one-on-one opportunities on the edge for Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence. So, if Zimmer’s plan gets executed the right way, it can have a trickle down effect on improving the Cowboys defense as a whole. After all, it starts in the trenches.


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