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Offseason | 2024

Woodson says new DC Mike Zimmer 'isn't gonna be their friend' 


About 30 years ago, Darren Woodson was coming off his first Pro Bowl selection, to go along with two Super Bowl rings. In three seasons, he was already considered one of the NFL's best safeties.

And then Mike Zimmer was named the new secondary coach heading into the 1995 season and it wasn't long before he asked Woodson to visit him in his new office.

"He sat me down and we pulled out the tape and we went over every one of my bad plays from the previous year," Woodson recalled. "It was terrible. Here I was thinking I was a pretty good player and he wanted to go over all of the things I didn't do well the year before. I hated that. I didn't sleep for four or five days. But it made me better." 

Woodson did get better, making the Pro Bowl four straight times and he would eventually become the Cowboys' all-time leading tackler.

Last week, Woodson learned that he once again was not included in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, despite being a finalist. But at least he found out some good news with the hiring of Zimmer as defensive coordinator once again in Dallas. 

Zimmer was the secondary coach until 1999 with the Cowboys before becoming defensive coordinator for seven more seasons (2000-06). From Dallas, he went to Atlanta and Cincinnati as the DC before a nine-year stint as head coach of the Vikings, where he plenty of division battles against Mike McCarthy and the Packers. 

Now, Zimmer is set to join McCarthy's staff and there's one thing he is sure to bring, according to Woodson. 

"Toughness. A toughness and a shock to the system for sure," Woodson said. "He's going to do it in a way where you're going to have to be tough and show up to practice with a tough mindset. He's going to challenge you. He's not going to be their friend. He's going to put you in positions where you're probably not going to like him, but you're going to respect him."

Zimmer's no-nonsense personality is often displayed with his coaching style as well, evident by aggressive play-calls and an array of blitz packages. But Zimmer also has versatility in his schemes as he coached a 4-3 defense for the majority of his career but also was the DC under Bill Parcells and ran a 3-4 scheme as well.  

"He's just a damn good coach. He shows up and puts the time in. You know he's putting the work in," Woodson said. "He's a believer in his system. He's a firm believer in what he does. There's no backing up, dude. He's not playing on his heels. There's nothing soft here. He's going to come and bring a toughness to that team."

And from afar, Woodson said that's something that is needed for the current Cowboys, who has had Dan Quinn as the defensive coordinator for the last three years before he went to Washington as the new head coach. 

The Cowboys aren't exactly short on talent on either side of the ball but the defense had three Pro Bowlers - Micah Parsons and DaRon Bland, as well as DeMarcus Lawrence. Parsons and Bland were both finalists for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. And the Cowboys are going to get two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs back from a knee injury this season. 

But despite the playmakers, Woodson said Zimmer will definitely bring a much-needed mindset tot the team. 

"One thing about this team right now … I'm not going to ever question their toughness but he'll be an outside voice coming in that will challenge them," Zimmer said. "You can't grow when you do the same things over and over. You grow when you have to go through some (stuff). This team is very comfortable. But I think Zimm is going to change a lot of that, especially on defense."

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