FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Ty Zimmerman believes this is exactly where he belongs, on an NFL field making plays and living his dream.
He just needed another chance – and for his body to stop betraying him.
The former Kansas State star safety was in rookie minicamp with the New York Jets on a tryout during the weekend, hoping to put a handful of injuries behind him, open some eyes and perhaps earn a contract.
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”I’ve just had a string of bad luck, I think,” Zimmerman said in the Jets’ locker room. ”I didn’t know if I’d get another opportunity this soon, but I’m happy they gave me a chance to come out here.”
Zimmerman doesn’t know what’s in store for him, and as a tryout player he knows nothing is guaranteed. That’s a lesson the native of Junction City, Kansas, has learned while spending numerous hours in doctors’ offices and gyms rehabilitating.
”I kind of skipped out on the minor injuries,” he said, shaking his head.
As a junior at Kansas State, Zimmerman injured his left ankle during a game against TCU and missed the final two games of the regular season. He was on his way to terrific year, with five interceptions while establishing himself as a team leader.
The same thing happened his senior year – this time to his right ankle, but also against TCU and knocking him out for the last two games again. He had also been playing through a dislocated right shoulder.
He went undrafted after many scouts thought he was a possible third- or fourth-rounder heading into the season. The New Orleans Saints signed him as an undrafted free agent last spring, and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan liked what he saw. Zimmerman even made a nice diving interception of Drew Brees in practice, a play that ended up on YouTube.
”Yeah, it was cool,” Zimmerman said with a smile. ”My family talked about it and texted me about it, and friends back home did the same thing.”
Ryan likes having a surplus of cornerbacks and safeties in his defense, and Zimmerman appeared poised to make a push to make the Saints’ roster. He got into New Orleans’ first preseason game against St. Louis and had five tackles, including three solos, but injured his left shoulder while covering a punt.
”It was just kind of a freak thing,” Zimmerman said. ”I was covering a punt and was locked up with a guy and was trying to shed him, and it just popped out. I knew it right away because I had done the other one the year before. I ended up finishing the game, got an MRI and then needed surgery.”
That was it for Zimmerman, who spent the season on injured reserve – a helpless spectator with an uncertain future.
”It was extremely tough,” he said. ”I finished that game because I felt like maybe it might be my last chance to get out there and play in an NFL game. It tested me mentally and stuff like that, but it brought me here in the end.”
The Saints cut Zimmerman early last week in a move that surprised him, and sent him and his wife packing up their apartment and pondering their next move. Around noon last Thursday, his agent called and said the Jets might be interested. New York called two hours later, told him to get on a flight at 8 p.m., and Zimmerman landed about 12:30 a.m.
Six hours later, he was at the Jets’ facility – weary but thankful for the chance to play football again.
”I feel good and feel like I’m getting the playbook down pretty quick,” Zimmerman said. ”But honestly, after going through what I did with the Saints and knowing that there’s a lot of business side to it. I know it’s a numbers game.”
He wasn’t sure if the Jets would even look to sign a safety after minicamp was over, but Zimmerman hopes he did enough to make that decision easier. And if not, he’ll figure it out – maybe another chance on another team, or maybe follow in his father Randall’s footsteps and become a coach.
”Football is not what I am, it’s what I do,” Zimmerman said. ”But, if God continues to open up opportunities and doors for me, I’ll continue to take them. I mean, I still love this game. I just still really want to play.”
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