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Offseason | 2024

Play-calling among topics addressed by McCarthy


ORLANDO, Fla. — The Annual League Meeting at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Orlando powers on, as Tuesday allowed for the media to sit down with all of the NFC head coaches for a 45-minute time period to discuss the offseason.

Mike McCarthy was featured in the front of the ballroom as various reporters were in and out of what he had to say about the Cowboys' offseason in his first availability of the offseason.

Here are the highlights from that conversation.

Where does Tyler Smith Play?

A key point in the talk around Orlando this week with Jerry Jones and Stephen Jones has been third-year offensive lineman Tyler Smith and what position he will play in 2024 and beyond after the departure of Tyron Smith this offseason at left tackle.

With Jerry Jones saying not to dismiss Smith playing left tackle and Stephen Jones saying a final decision won't be made until after the draft, McCarthy offered his opinion that Smith is the left guard as of now.

"Tyler Smith will take another step," McCarthy said. "We'll keep him at guard right now and see how it unfolds. I thought we took a big step if you look at the makeup of our offensive line last year where our younger players were backups and got to play too."

The offensive line is under close focus this offseason with the departures of Tyron Smith and Tyler Biadasz, but McCarthy has confidence in the youth in the room.

"Really the process of upgrading and improving the depth of the offensive line really happened last year," he said. "We added some really good young guys we feel good about…I mean you can put Brock [Hoffman] in the same category. He's been here. No one was as close to Tyler Biadasz as he was, so I think that's a natural step for him to step in there and will continue to grow, but we do want to continue to add talent and depth to that room."

Mazi's Next Step

The rookie season for defensive tackle Mazi Smith didn't go to plan, but there is still confidence in McCarthy and the staff that he will take the steps necessary to perform better in year two.

"I'm looking for Mazi to take that step, no bones about it," he said. "Now, if you just look at the dynamics of the room – and obviously we'll continue to add to that room – but he's going to have a lot more opportunity in front of him."

McCarthy did reveal that Smith had shoulder surgery earlier this offseason and is working through rehab that will keep him off the field until training camp.

"He's going through a rehab phase right now," he said. "I just look for him, he's definitely one of the guys that needs to take that big second year jump and I think he'll do that…I think now he'll have a better plan and we need to help him with that plan to be at the proper weight and maintain it."

Eric Kendricks Impact

The Cowboys' lone outside free agency addition, linebacker Eric Kendricks, is one that Mike McCarthy is very familiar with from his days coaching against him in the NFC North. Having his presence on this edition of the Dallas defense under Mike Zimmer will be huge for that side of the ball, according to McCarthy.

"I'll say this just having the chance to meet with Eric," he said. "Competed against him a lot when he was with Minnesota, but just the confidence that he has in Mike Zimmer speaks for itself. Just to use his words, it's the best coach he's ever played for as far as from the defensive perspective, the in-game adjustments. He is excited to be back in the system and excited about his opportunity in Dallas."

Youth Stepping Up

Mazi Smith isn't the only young player expected to take a leap in 2024, as the free agency settling of the dust has left the Cowboys seeking how to replace a handful of starters on both sides of the ball with the youth currently in the building.

For McCarthy, his trust in the younger guys – some who could have had more snaps last season – is high to step in and keep the same level of competition.

"As your players grow and their value grows, how you keep them all together varies," he said. That's a whole other competition that goes on from year-to-year. The biggest improvement we'll have as a football team is the development of our young players."

"If your roster is built the right way, the development of the young guys that may have played 15 plays a game may increase to 45 or 50. Ultimately, maybe you want to have the 70 to 75-play a game player that, to me, would be in the line of a starter. I've never approached it as having 11 starters on any side of the ball. You can really take all of our second, third and some of our fourth-year players and put them in that category."

Second-Year Jump

The "second-year jump" is something that McCarthy harps on quite a bit when talking about the development of young players, but it's not specific to just the players on the field. Going into year two as the offensive play caller, he sees an opportunity alongside offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to take that next step even amidst helping to construct a new defense with Mike Zimmer.

"We will be better as an offensive staff this year," he said. "We need to take a second-year jump as a coaching staff, the offensive side. I think Brian is doing a great job leading the charge there. I'm always calling the game whether it's in the shower or driving to work. I think you have to approach it that way because so many of these decisions are really just your approach and mindsets are developed in the offseason."

Not Done at RB

After losing Tony Pollard in free agency to the Tennessee Titans, it's clear that the Cowboys have some work to do in the running back room to fill it out before the season begins. Getting Rico Dowdle back was big, according to McCarthy, but adding another body in the form of a veteran or rookie will be necessary.

"We're not done with that room by any means, whether it's a veteran or there is a draft pick," he said. "We have some young guys in there who will be part of that jump we're talking about. Look at Hunter [Luepke], Deuce [Vaughn] and even Malik [Davis], all three of those guys, I'm expecting them to take a big jump and compete for playing time."

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