Former Ferris DT Justin Zimmer begins Buffalo Bills minicamp with ‘chip on his shoulder’

SPRINT: Former Ferris State University defensive tackle Justin Zimmer trains at Michael Johnson Performance in Texas leading up to the NFL draft. He signed with the Buffalo Bills on Saturday as an undrafted free agent. (Courtesy photo/Larry Zimmer)

SPRINT: Former Ferris State University defensive tackle Justin Zimmer trains at Michael Johnson Performance in Texas leading up to the NFL draft. He signed with the Buffalo Bills on Saturday as an undrafted free agent. (Courtesy photo/Larry Zimmer)

BIG RAPIDS – Former Ferris State University defensive tackle Justin Zimmer has a chip on his shoulder as he prepares to begin his NFL career.

The Greenville native, who led the Bulldogs in tackles (81), quarterback sacks (13), tackles for loss (26) and forced fumbles (four) last season, was hoping to become the first FSU player ever to be drafted after putting up astounding numbers at an NFL regional combine in Houston on Feb. 13.

He bench pressed 225 pounds 44 times, which was 10 better than the highest bench press total at the NFL combine, and his 40-yard dash, short shuttle and three-cone drill times also were some of the best among defensive linemen in the draft.

Many NFL draft pundits pegged the 6-foot-3, 302-pound Zimmer as a possible late-round pick, but he did not hear his name called during the three-day draft, April 28-30. He signed a free agent contract with the Buffalo Bills less than 24 hours following the conclusion of the draft.

“You always hear that Division II guys can’t translate to the next level, so there always is that little chip on your shoulder that wants to prove you can play with guys from big D1 schools,” Zimmer said. “Obviously you hope to be drafted, but you know being from D2 it is a pretty slim possibility because people don’t respect D2 very much. But it wasn’t super disappointing. All you can ask for is a chance.”

It’s a chance Zimmer has been dreaming of since he was a kid, and he is excited to begin rookie minicamp May 6-8. He said he must arrive in Buffalo by 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, but is unsure of what to expect during camp.

“I’m ready just to get there and start getting things going and see how everything works,” he said. “I know it’s going to be a pretty big adjustment for me, coming from college to the NFL. I’m just excited to get the process going. I know there is a lot of hard work ahead.”

Zimmer said several teams contacted him during the draft expressing interest in signing him as a free agent. He chose the Bills primarily because of defensive line coach John Blake, who helped train Zimmer at Michael Johnson Performance in Texas during the months leading up to the draft.

“I thought it was a good fit, to go somewhere where I know I am going to like the position coach,” Zimmer said. “He knows me and I am comfortable with him.”

In an article by Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke, he called Zimmer the Bills’ best undrafted free agent signing.

“This is a nice landing spot for Zimmer, who turned in an insane pro day (4.9-second 40 and a staggering 44 bench reps),” Burke wrote. “The Ryan brothers (head coach Rex and assistant head coach Rob) could have uncovered a gem here in the small-school, pass-rushing tackle.”

Zimmer’s FSU teammate, two-time Harlon Hill Trophy winning quarterback Jason Vander Laan, signed with AFC East rival New York Jets. The two stayed in contact throughout the draft.

“We were texting asking if each other had heard anything yet,” Zimmer said.

Vander Laan is expected to play tight end in the NFL. The two joked about who would win if they line up against each other at the line of scrimmage in an NFL game.

“We were giving each other a hard time,” Zimmer quipped.

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Posted by Ryan Zuke

Ryan is the sports editor for the Big Rapids Pioneer, covering local prep sports and Ferris State athletics. He can be contacted at (231) 592-8363 or rzuke@pioneergroup.com.

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