The Wolverine

May 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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26 THE WOLVERINE MAY 2022 And they were right. With Chris Hin- ton by his side, Smith became a huge part of a much-improved Michigan defense in 2021 under coordinator Mike Macdonald. Smith started all 14 games on the defen- sive line and notched 37 tackles, includ- ing 2.5 for loss, four pass breakups and four quarterback hurries. He wasn't asked to get to the quarter- back much — just hold the line, really, while letting the elite pass rushing de- fensive ends do the work. But he did that job well, and he'll have more responsi- bilities this season than ever. First-year defensive line coach Mike Elston wants more pressure from the interior line, for example, and he'll ask his veteran to lead the way. "Mazi Smith is a very capable pass rusher," Elston said this spring in prais- ing the 6-3, 326-pound tackle. "Kris Jenkins, George Rooks — all those guys are capable of pass rushing. It's just that we need to build it in. We need to teach them, and it goes down to the technique and leveling to the quarterback." It's a skill Smith showed early in camp. Former Michigan All-American Jon Jan- sen, who now does color commentary on the football broadcasts, relayed a story on his "In the Trenches" podcast this spring. The first time he entered the building, he said, people couldn't help but ask, "Have you seen Mazi?" or "Wait until you see Mazi!" Head coach Jim Harbaugh was one, and he shared it with reporters. "Mazi Smith — right off the jump," he said a week into spring ball when asked who was standing out. "Mazi Smith is playing really well. We're expecting great things from Mazi. He looks tremendous." He's got the right attitude, too, to take his game to another level. When Har- baugh was interviewing for NFL jobs, for example, Smith didn't flinch. Yes, he ap- preciated his coach. At the same time, he took one of Harbaugh's lessons to heart in concentrating on what he could control. For him, that was getting himself in shape and preparing for another run at a championship. "Work's still got to get done, so I don't see how much that's got to do with me," Smith said. "I've just got to go in the weight room and work hard, come out to practice, work hard. "I want Coach Harbaugh to be here, and he's here, but everybody's got to make the best decision for themselves. I learned that my freshman year." But he's not a rookie anymore, and with more experience comes more re- sponsibility. Now in his fourth season GETTING IT DONE Defensive Lineman Mazi Smith Returns With A Vengeance BY CHRIS BALAS L ast spring, Michigan defensive coaches put a lot of pres- sure on then-redshirt freshman Mazi Smith. The interior lineman had received mixed reviews his first few years, but he put the work in during winter conditioning to let his teammates know they could depend on him. By the end of spring, they were all singing his praises. Even those who left, like former graduate assistant James Ross (who accepted a coaching job at Hope College), said to expect big things from the nose tackle.

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