NFL journeyman Justin Zimmer finally gets his shot

Sports

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) evades Buffalo Bills’ Justin Zimmer during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — “It’s an interesting life for sure.” That’s how defensive tackle Justin Zimmer describes his career in the NFL. On Wednesday, the Bills promoted Zimmer from the practice squad to the 53-man roster, a place he’s only been a handful of times throughout his career.

After signing with the Bills as an undrafted free agent in 2016, Zimmer was cut after training camp and waited four months until being picked up by the Saints. After a brief stint with the team, then the practice squad for the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes, it wasn’t until 2018 that Zimmer finally got to step on the field in an NFL game. He played one game with the Atlanta Falcons before moving back down to the practice squad. The Cleveland Browns signed him from the Falcons practice squad in 2019, and there he played two games.

Zimmer made his return to Buffalo on August 16th of this season. After getting cut then resigned to the practice squad at the 53-man roster cut deadline, Zimmer put in the work to improve his game.

“One of the biggest things since I got here is we’re a lot more of a penetrating style defensive line. I hadn’t necessarily come from systems that were as penetrating as this one was. I had to work on getting off the ball every single play,” Justin Zimmer said to reporters on Thursday. “It took me a little bit, especially through camp and stuff, and I’m still trying to get better at it every day because sometimes I revert back to some old habits and I just have to get rid of those.”

Zimmer’s hard work paid off, and he opened up the 2020 NFL season on the 53-man roster for the Bills. In week one against the Jets, he had two solo tackles and two assisted tackles.

But it wasn’t until week six that he’d get the opportunity to play in a game again.

“I just try to go out and have as much of a well rounded game as possible. I work on run defense every day, I work on pass defense, whatever I see in the game that I didn’t do well, I’m going to go before practice every day and work on that,” Zimmer said. “Then whatever they put me in, whether it’s first down run stopper or it’s third and ten and they want me to rush the passer, I want to be able to do as many things as I can to help me get on the field.”

In Monday’s week six game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Zimmer made his time on the field count. He accounted for five total tackles, one solo and four assisted, and one almost game-changing forced fumble that ended up being called back because the runner’s knee was down.

“Oh I thought I had it, then I saw the replay and my heart sunk to be honest. It’s just like dang, I was so close,” Zimmer said.

After his career-high game, Zimmer was signed to the Bills 53-man roster. Now, after everything he’s been through, the highs and the lows, he can look back and appreciate everything it took for him to get to this point.

“There’s different techniques everywhere, and it’s kind of been a blessing in disguise going to so many different places because there’s not just one way to play D-Line,” Zimmer said. “Getting to play for so many different coaches with different technique philosophies, I’m able to pick and choose what kind of things work the best for me. Just getting off the ball here is one thing that has really helped me this year.”

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