There are many uncertainties surrounding college football right now. The 2020 season is still in jeopardy, and even if a season does occur it will do so in empty stadiums with a conference-only schedule. Still, it is never too early to take a look at the Michigan depth chart and the players slated to contribute whenever football does resume. Join us as we comb through the roster and answer key questions heading into this fall.
Mazi Smith, redshirt FR
247 Composite Ranking: 4 stars (DT 11, Overall 105)
2019 Stats: 2 games played
The 2019 recruiting class saw Michigan bring in one of the top defensive tackles in the country in Chris Hinton, but right behind him was another high quality prospect. Mazi Smith landed just outside the top 100 overall and is expected to be a force along the defensive line with Hinton. Neither saw much action in their first year on campus, but both are primed to take a jump this fall.
Smith is a big player; in fact, he dropped some weight upon arriving in Ann Arbor to help his mobility. He will enter his redshirt freshman season as a backup with a clear place on the two deep and his playing time could vary widely depending on his progression. With Michigan’s need for established tackles, though, he should get the opportunities to grow and see plenty of snaps this fall.
How quickly can Smith acclimate to the college game and contribute?
Unlike Hinton, Smith was not as college-ready coming out of high school. Accordingly, he only saw the field a couple of times, which is not all bad, as he was able to keep his redshirt status. Aside from working on his body shape, the big areas of focus are fairly standard for a young talent, including working on his consistency in approach and working on his technique in terms of how he can maximize his physicality.
This is key, as Smith is definitely there from a physical standpoint. He is very strong and already has the power to dominate along the interior of the line. He pairs this with excellent quickness and a high motor which is what made him stick out as a prospect. With a little development he can soon become a clear pillar at the position and routinely make a mess of the opposing backfield.
The Don Brown defense has operated as a 3-3-5 at Michigan, but there are still opportunities for multiple defensive tackles. If both Hinton and Smith can live up to their potential, the pair could certainly work their way into the starting lineup together and could help bring some versatility to the scheme. 2020 is a little soon for this reality, but both players have the capability of being key cogs of the Wolverine defense.
While it is fun to think about the future, the coaching staff really just needs Smith to be a reliable contributor this season. There is nothing certain at the position after Carlo Kemp, so even though Smith is still very green, he will get a chance to step right up to the plate. He will likely show some ups and downs, but his pure athletic traits will help cover some of his initial growing pains.