Looking for ways to improve their dismal punt return game, the New York Giants plan to hire former Dolphins, Jets and Patriots special teams whiz Larry Izzo, according to The Star-Ledger's Giants beat whiz Mike Garafolo. Izzo is a 14-year veteran who went to three Pro Bowls as a special teamer. Mike says Izzo will work as an assistant to special teams coach Tom Quinn, attempting to help "improve the team's return game (last in punt returns, next-to-last in kick returns last season) and help a punt-coverage unit that allowed the second-highest average in the NFL (14.9 yards per return) and a pair of touchdowns in 2010."
Izzo was one of those cult-hero players around whom legends would spring up, mainly because he never looked the part of the big, bad NFL star but managed to make so many who did look bad. I was covering the Dolphins in 1996, which was Jimmy Johnson's first year as coach and Izzo's first year in the league. During a preseason meeting, Johnson was going through film with the team and talking about what had to be done in order to make the team. "Make plays," Johnson said, then showed a clip of Dan Marino making one of his brilliant touchdown throws. "Dan Marino makes plays," Johnson said. "Dan Marino is on the team."
The next clip was of Izzo making an insane special teams tackle in a preseason game. Remember, this was an undrafted free agent of Rice who'd been an afterthought among anyone (inside or outside that room) who was paying attention to the potential roster. "Larry Izzo makes plays," Johnson said. "Larry Izzo is on the team." The meeting ended shortly thereafter.
That story is true. It's also the way Izzo found out he made his first NFL roster. As Izzo's career blossomed over the next decade, I never forgot the day the 1996 Dolphins were told the only two players who'd made the team so far were Dan Marino and Larry Izzo. The guy built an NFL career on fierce determination. Having him around can't be a bad thing for a special teams unit that needs more intensity.