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Mailbag: Being optimistic about Mazi?


I'm having difficulty feeling confident about Mazi Smith. Are we just being extremely hopeful and not realistic that he can be the guy? What gives us optimism?David Nystrom/Loudon, TN

Nick Eatman: I'm not sure optimism is the word for this situation. When you combine last year's performance and the offseason shoulder surgery and rehab, there's not a lot to get really excited about. What I'm going to bank on is the fact Will McClay and his scouting team have led the charge to several great draft picks in the first round in recent history. All we can do is hope Mazi finds a good fit in Mike Zimmer's defense and shows us all why they drafted him in the first round. If you want more optimism, how about the fact he is one of the strongest players on the team. If he can get quicker off the ball, understand his role in this new scheme, the strength can be an added bonus that could help him thrive. But those all "what-if" scenarios. He has to put in the work to make it happen.

Kurt: I'll admit that Smith's rookie season didn't exactly fill me with confidence either, but I do think there are reasons to be optimistic. First off, I'm always willing to give player personnel guru Will McClay and his staff the benefit of the doubt. They're one of the best scouting departments in the league, and they obviously saw something in Smith. He's also only 23 years old, still growing, still developing and still maturing. In addition, everything we've been hearing is that the role Smith was thrust into last year really wasn't a fit for him. Was he asked to lose weight and play faster when he's better suited to bulk up and, as Nate Newton likes to say, be a "big greasy" in the middle? Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer stated they'll "start with the basics" and go from there, and there's no reason not to believe him. Get Smith at the right weight, in the right role with the right training and who knows what can happen? The NFL is littered with guys who got off to slow starts but went on to have successful careers. Just take a look at Hall of Famer Randy White's first two seasons when the Cowboys started him off as a linebacker. He was borderline awful. But then Tom Landry finally found the right role for him and the rest is history. Sure, that's an unfair comparison, but hey, it's also a reminder that we shouldn't give up on Smith just yet.

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