Surprising Cowboys rookie is already drawing praise from Mike Zimmer

Dec 20, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer looks on in the
Dec 20, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer looks on in the / Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when the Dallas Cowboys almost let Mike Zimmer slip through their fingertips? An agreement with Zimmer was reported by notable insiders, but it was swiftly revealed that Zimmer hadn't officially signed his contract.

Before long, the deal became official but it was a strenuous couple of days. After all, most Cowboys fans felt Zimmer was the perfect fit for a defense that was often out-schemed and bullied in big games under former defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who is now the Commanders' head coach.

Zimmer's arrival will benefit a plethora of Cowboys. Mazi Smith tops the list as Zimmer has already confirmed Smith is putting on weight to convert back to his familiar nose tackle position after Quinn bizarrely had him switch to a three-technique tackle.

Safety Donovan Wilson and cornerback Jourdan Lewis are other likely beneficiaries, but Dallas clearly drafted to Zimmer's strengths this year. Second-round pick Marshawn Kneeland could push Sam Williams for snaps, but it's actually another Cowboys rookie who's left a strong impression on Zimmer at rookie minicamp and OTAs.

Cowboys' 2024 third-round pick Maris Liufau already impressing Mike Zimmer

Appearing on "The Doomsday Podcast" with ESPN Cowboys writers Ed Werder and Matt Mosely, Zimmer had plenty of positive things to say about Liufau. You can watch the full interview with Zimmer behind this link.

"Number one, he's brilliant. He catches on really quick. He wants to be so good and so intense that he's almost too much at it right now. The other thing is I think he's a really good pressure player and I think having that with (Micah) Parsons and another pressure player that is a linebacker or he can move somewhere else and Parsons can move somewhere else. I think those pieces add to confusion for the offense, plus he's a really good rusher. "

It sounds like Zimmer plans to deploy Liufau in a variety of roles. Liufau can don many hats in a defense, but he's a high-octane downhill linebacker who flies to ball-carriers. Zimmer alluded to his aggression and energy, which pulls him out of position on occasion, but Dallas has long needed a linebacker that plays like their hair is on fire and has bad intentions when getting downhill.

Zimmer seems keen on having Liufau rush the quarterback. That role is no stranger to Liufau, who ranked seventh in the nation in pressures (25) amongst LBs who played at least 125 pass-rushing snaps. He was sixth in pass-rush grade and third in PRP, which combines sacks, hits and hurries relative to how many times they rushed the passer, per PFF (subscription required).

Liufau won't exclusively rush the passer, but that feels like a perfect strategy to throw opposing offenses a different look. If it allows Zimmer to get creative with Parsons in terms of moving him around the line of scrimmage and lining him up against different blockers, that's even better.

It sounds like the Notre Dame product is well on his way to carving out a significant role on Zimmer's defense as a first-year player.

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