Mike Zimmer: Darren Woodson is 'the best player'

Jason Garrett on Darren Woodson: "I think everybody early on, right from the get-go, knew this guy was going to be a special player." AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

IRVING, Texas -- As Darren Woodson reflects back on a career that led him to the Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor, he has too many coaches to thank.

Dave Campo was instrumental in drafting him in 1992 after putting the former linebacker through defensive back drills at Arizona State’s pro day.

“He molded me,” Woodson said.

In 1995, Mike Zimmer became his defensive backs coach for five seasons and then his defensive coordinator for four more.

“Zim took me to another level as far as covering in the slot, understanding formations and how a team was trying to attack me and the weakness of the defense,” Woodson said.

Now the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Zimmer didn’t have enough good things to say about Woodson, who will be inducted into the Ring of Honor Sunday when the Cowboys play the Seattle Seahawks.

“He’s the best -- best player -- I wouldn’t just say safety,” Zimmer said. “He’s a great, great person, he’s smart, he’s a kid [who] was an outside linebacker in college and taught himself how to backpedal, worked really hard on his technique, learned how to blitz, was tough, competitive, and I’ve always said this about Darren, that he is a better person than he is football player, and I’m happy for him. He needs to go in one other Hall of Fame.”

Jason Garrett was Woodson’s teammate for eight seasons, seven on the active roster. They came to the Cowboys the same year. They won Super Bowls together. In practice, Woodson used to torment the former scout-team quarterback.

“I think everybody early on, right from the get-go, knew this guy was going to be a special player. It had a lot to do with the kind of person he was,” Garrett said. “He’s a great example who didn’t say a whole hell of a lot but his passion and enthusiasm for the game was overwhelming. And just the way he practiced and the way he played every week and certainly the credibility he had within the locker room and the respect he had for his teammates was felt from the get-go and throughout his career. Certainly one of the best players and probably the best safety of his generation in the National Football League.”

When Woodson left the Cowboys, he autographed the back wall of his locker and wrote: Super Bowl Champs 92, 93, 95 History. The year Woodson left, Terence Newman asked to take over the spot because of what Woodson meant to him his rookie year.

Jason Witten was a teammate in Woodson’s final year, 2003.

“I learned so much from him just going against him that rookie year,” Witten said. “I’m happy for him. He deserves it. A lot of times when you think of those teams, sometimes you leave his name off. But that doesn’t mean he’s not deserving.”

NFL Nation reporter Ben Goessling contributed to this report.