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Will Zimmer's Past with Woodson Help Smith's Future?

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Minnesota Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday that he's connecting former Cowboys safety Darren Woodson with Vikings safety Harrison Smith this offseason.

"I've talked to Harrison Smith about Darren Woodson and some of the things he did," Zimmer said. "Matter of fact, I gave him his phone number and I called Darren and said, 'Hey, get with this guy and try to talk to him a little bit about how you were as a safety.' "

The Vikings and 29 other NFL teams are at the point of the calendar in which the coaches aren't allowed to have direct instruction with players, but that doesn't mean lessons Zimmer has offered to players in the past can't be passed along to current players. The Seahawks and Patriots will have the same status as the rest of the league after Super Bowl XLIX this Sunday in Arizona.

Zimmer was a guest on Vikings play-by-play announcer Paul Allen's radio show on KFAN. He discussed the pending status of Adrian Peterson and recalled his experience at Super Bowl XXX. Zimmer said Woodson "was probably the best safety I've ever coached."

Zimmer arrived in Dallas in 1994 as defensive backs coach in Woodson's third pro season when the second-round pick began a stretch of three straight All-Pro selections and five consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl.

The coach's leadership of a secondary that included Woodson and Brock Marion at safety, and Deion Sanders and Larry Brown at cornerback helped Dallas record three interceptions in a defeat of Pittsburgh to end the 1995 season. Zimmer directly coached Woodson through 1999 and had four more seasons with him after Zimmer became Cowboys defensive coordinator.

Earlier this week, Woodson assisted Cowboys Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin in coaching a team at the Pro Bowl against Vikings Hall of Famers Cris Carter and John Randle.

Many thought Smith, a first-rounder in 2012, made a strong enough case this season to be selected to his first pro all-star game. Smith led the Vikings with 120 tackles (coaches' tally) and five interceptions, which was tied for third-most in the NFL.

Although the recognition didn't roll in league-wide for Smith's season, it's clear he helped implement a new system that led to dramatic year-over-year improvements in pass defense for the Vikings in 2014 and will be central to the plan going forward.

Zimmer told Allen he thinks current players can relate when they hear stories of past successful players. He also lobbied for Woodson's stock to reach even higher status. Woodson, who Zimmer called a "fantastic person and a fantastic player," was a semi-finalist on the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame ballot but didn't make the final cut. This year's class will be selected and announced Saturday.

"Quite honestly, Darren should be in the Hall of Fame," Zimmer said. "I hope he makes it because he's a better person than he was a player, and that tells you an awful lot."

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