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Injuries force Larry Izzo, Zach Thomas out

New York Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff was with the Miami Dolphins when he scouted a pair of undersized Texas college linebackers who he thought could make an impact in the NFL.

In the past month, Westhoff has had blunt conversations with both players about ending their decorated careers because of injuries.

The Jets on Wednesday put Larry Izzo on injured reserve because of a herniated disk in his neck. The Kansas City Chiefs released Zach Thomas before the season because of repeated concussions.

Izzo and Thomas were overachievers who went on to play in a combined 10 Pro Bowls. Izzo, 35, was undrafted out of Rice. Thomas, 36, was a fifth-round draft choice from Texas Tech.

"I had the same conversation a month or so ago with Zach Thomas," Westhoff said of his sitdown with Izzo. "It was the same kind of conversation. I got those two guys on the same scouting trip. They should send me out more often, or I should do a better job, but that was pretty good.

"Sometimes you get certain types of injuries and it's enough. You have to pull the plug. Whether that's what this will mean for Larry, I don’t know that. That's not my point, but it certainly could [be a career-ending injury] because you just can't continue. How far can you go?"

Izzo, whose career has been based on wicked collisions, had been experiencing what he thought were stingers in his right side, but learned the condition was much more serious than that.

"It’s a tough thing," Westhoff said. "All of a sudden you have to rebuild some areas of your neck."

Regarding whether Izzo will play again, Westhoff said that even with surgery he "would have to probably guess that that might be a long shot."

Westhoff reminisced about how Dolphins head coach Jimmy Johnson signed off on adding Izzo to the team in 1996.

"Nobody knew who he was," Westhoff said. "I went down to Houston and talked to those people [at Rice]. Before I went there, the Canadian League wouldn't work him out, and the Arena [League] said no. His college coach told me that he was the best defensive player he ever had. Before [the coach] was at Rice, he was at Arkansas and Clemson. He said 'Now there is a certain role that he has to have. He can't do everything, but in a certain role, he’s really good.'

"We took a chance. It was easy for us. Jimmy Johnson was a Southwest Conference guy himself. He liked that. We always kept a number of special-teams guys. That's all they did. That was Jimmy's philosophy. He didn't care if you could even line up anywhere else. He was going to have those guys. We had them. That was a lot of fun coaching."