Cowboys DC Mike Zimmer expecting bounce-back season from DT Mazi Smith

Defensive tackle Mazi Smith had a quiet rookie season for the Dallas Cowboys after they selected him late in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. But a change in defensive coordinator means a fresh start for the former Michigan star. 

“Obviously, he was a high draft pick, and I heard that he kinda struggled a little bit last year,” Mike Zimmer said of Smith, per The Athletic. “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 kinda go from there.

“We anticipate that he’s gonna be a good player like he was in college.” 

The first-team All-Big Ten selection logged just one sack and 13 combined tackles while appearing in all 17 regular-season games last year. Dallas will especially need more production from the 6-foot-3, 337-pound Smith in Year 2, as it lost defensive linemen Dorance Armstrong, Jonathan Hankins and Neville Gallimore, among others, to free agency. 

The interior D-line could be one of the bigger areas of concern for Zimmer, who’s in his second stint as the Cowboys DC (2000-06). As the head coach of the Vikings (2014-2021), his defenses ranked in the top 10 in points per game for five consecutive seasons before plummeting into the 20s in each of his final two years. With Dan Quinn now coaching the Commanders, Zimmer takes over a Cowboys unit that surrendered just 299.7 total yards and 18.5 points per game last year — both marks ranking fifth in the NFL.

The Cowboys, of course, are coming off their third consecutive 12-5 campaign. But while their defense was a catalyst to winning the NFC East, it unraveled in a wild-card loss to the Packers this past season. Dallas has just one postseason victory in Mike McCarthy’s four years at the helm. 

Tom Brady’s first FOX broadcast will feature Cowboys, Browns

Tom Brady's first FOX broadcast will feature Cowboys, Browns

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