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Mailbag: Adjusting run defense without Hankins?


How will the Cowboys adjust their run defense if they are without Johnathan Hankins? Is Mazi Smith ready to fill in for him? – Mark Somma/Winchester, VA

Nick Harris:It's looking like Johnathan Hankins will miss this Sunday's game against Buffalo, and it also looks like the Cowboys will be fortunate if that's the only game that Hankins misses with his ankle injury. With that, it's going to be a committee effort to fill in for run defense in his place. The first obvious name is first-round pick Mazi Smith. Can he play to the level Hankins has this season? I think the simple answer is no, but that doesn't mean that he can't use his world-class strength to be effective and plug running lanes. Aside from him, expect Neville Gallimore and practice squad defensive tackle Carl Davis to also get a healthy amount of run.

Patrik: I'd expect Mazi Smith to get more reps, definitely, but I do not expect he'll be thrown into the fire. I believe the plan will be to elevate Carl Davis — recently signed to the practice squad with fortuitous timing — to help the center of the run defense. From there, you lean more heavily on guys like Osa Odighizuwa, Chauncey Golston and Neville Gallimore, who have all shown the ability to impact games, and then mix in a rotation of Smith and Davis, as needed. The good news is the Cowboys don't believe the high ankle sprain on Hankins is serious and I did see him leaving the locker room without a boot on his foot, and without crutches, so that's promising. He'll be missed until he returns, but I don't see why there should be some massive drop in production at nose tackle.

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