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Matchups to Watch: Mazi gets early college reunion in Seattle


Week two of the preseason is upon us as the Dallas Cowboys left training camp in Oxnard, Calif. on Friday afternoon and headed to Seattle for Saturday night's exhibition with the Seahawks.

Key matchups are cluttered on both sides of the ball for the Cowboys and Seahawks going into Saturday night as the majority of the second and third-team units are expected to get valuable reps for Dallas, while Seattle could potentially put its first-team on the field to start the game before letting the depth units get their fare share of reps as well.

Here are three matchups to watch in Dallas' lone road game of the preseason.

DT Mazi Smith vs. C Olu Oluwatimi

Talk about a fascinating early matchup for first round pick Mazi Smith in his second preseason game in a Dallas uniform.

On Saturday night, Smith could directly line up against a former college teammate as Seattle center Olu Oluwatimi, who was drafted out of Michigan in the fifth round of April's draft, is set to take the majority of reps if he is able to overcome an elbow injury that has kept him limited in practice this week.

Oluwatimi, who won the Rimington Award for the nation's best center and the Outland Trophy for the nation's top interior offensive lineman in 2022, enters Seattle with accolades and strength in the interior. That strength was something Mazi Smith got used to in their one season together in Ann Arbor.

In Oluwatimi's preseason debut last week against Minnesota, the 6-foot-3, 307-pound mauler saw a good amount of success in pass protection, but struggled in the run game. With Smith's strengths being served best in the run game with his wide frame and elite strength, an opportunity to go up against a familiar opponent comes at a good time for a first round selection that is still ramping up to NFL speed.

CB DaRon Bland vs. WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba

A battle-tested DaRon Bland could get his first real test of the 2023 season in the form of first-round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

Smith-Njigba, an Ohio State product who also calls DFW suburb Rockwall home, entered Seattle's preseason slate off a final season with the Buckeyes that was riddled with plaguing injuries that eventually cut his time short in the college ranks. That being said, the 20th pick from April's draft looked like he was back to old form in the Seahawks' preseason opener, as his quick route running in the short-to-intermediate range allowed him to get open on multiple occasions, finishing with three receptions for 25 yards in a little over a quarter of work.

For Bland, lining up against a quick and physical receiver in the slot like Smith-Njigba poses a unique challenge for a nickel, as he'll have to channel his physicality into his hand placement off the line in order to ensure Smith-Njigba doesn't have one of his signature elite releases. Keeping up with his speed will also be a challenge in its own right.

It's not often that you can line up against a rookie and get a test like this one, but Bland will have the exam on his desk come Saturday night.

OL Asim Richards vs. DE Boye Mafe

In Asim Richards' preseason debut last Saturday, the rookie fifth-round selection had to step in and start at left tackle on short notice after an injury to Chuma Edoga prevented him from playing against Jacksonville. With Edoga trending towards having the same fate in Seattle, a challenge awaits at left tackle for Richards.

Seattle defensive end Boye Mafe, a second-round selection in 2022 out of Minnesota, had a huge preseason debut last week against the Vikings as his athletic presence disrupted the pocket on multiple occasions and blew up running plays in the backfield. While he was credited with just two tackles, his impact spanned much wider with his active disruption.

With limited NFL experience at left tackle, Richards could suffer some growing pains against Mafe. Or, he could stamp his versatility with a strong outing against an athletic and agile pass rusher with a year of experience under his belt.

Regardless, an opportunity for both to ramp into the season exists as each brings a proven college pedigree to Lumen Field on Saturday night.

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