If there were extensions of Mike Zimmer on the field while he was the Bengals defensive coordinator for the secondary coach at heart, they were cornerback Leon Hall and nickel back Chris Crocker.
Hall, one of the three defensive players that got here before Zimmer arrived in 2008, worked under him for six of his seven seasons and earned the highest of compliments. Zimmer, the ultimate competitor, has called Hall the best competitor he's been around.
"For Cincinnati's perspective, it's a bad day," Hall said after hearing the news Zimmer is the Vikings new head coach. "It's a good day coming from his perspective. It's double-sided. It's kind of sad he's leaving. He's done so well and guys are close to him. Personally, I was really happy because I know how much he wanted a head coaching job and how much he deserves it. For it to finally happen, I wish him well. I'm pretty sure if they give him enough time, he'll do great things for the organization."
Hall, a first-round pick in 2007 who has developed into one of the NFL's top cover corners, says Zimmer "has done wonders" for his career.
"The technique thing. He's on that every day. We work on it every day. We talk about it every day," Hall said. "He's really made me the player I am today. He made me who I am."
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said last week the Bengals would keep the same defense whether Zimmer stayed or not, and with all but one starter signed off the No. 3 defense Hall is confident there is enough experience and talent with the scheme to carry on.
"Same system, same guys. On paper it sounds good," Hall said. "But it will definitely be different. We have to work harder, study harder, and we really have to play better. You're not going to have him in your ear with his play calls at certain times. We definitely have to work harder.
"You can't replace him. You can run his defense if you want. Keep his calls and second-guess what calls he would have made in certain situations. But you can't replace him. His calls he made in certain situations were great. The impact he had on the guys was really impressive. Replace him? No. But I like to think we can keep things going. We have enough good players in here that played under him for a while. Hopefully we have the discipline to keep his legacy going."
Defensive end Robert Geathers, who along with Hall and tackle Domata Peko are the only pre-Zimmer defenders on the club, thought along the same lines earlier in the week when asked about the possibility of Zimmer leaving.
"We would definitely miss him. He's a motivator and guys love to play for him," Geathers said. "But no one in that room is looking to go backwards. He made us believe in ourselves. It's not like we haven't been good. We know how we got there: hard work, consistency. Doing the little things. We have the foundation."