Thomas earned his first of five All-Pro nods in his third season, and the two-time NFL tackles leader hit the ground running with a spot on the PFWA All-Rookie team in 1996 after leading the team with 154 tackles. Thomas was one of six players to start every game on Miami’s defense that season but coach Jimmy Johnson recognized his potential before he logged his first live snap.
“It was the first or second day of practice,” Bokamper said to ESPN Miami Dolphins beat reporter Marcel Louis-Jacques. “ They’re doing an inside drill. Some guy tries to go over the top, and Zach jumped over and just hit him in the jaw.
“I think the next day, Jimmy Johnson made him the starting middle linebacker. And that sent [then starting linebacker] Jack Del Rio to an early search for a coaching job.”
The Dolphins released Del Rio on Aug. 3, 1996, and never looked back as Thomas turned his opportunity into seven Pro Bowls, seven-total All-Pro selections, and a spot on the NFL 2000’s All-Decade Team.
Louis-Jacques interviewed Thomas, Bokamper, and former Miami Dolphins wide receiver O.J. McDuffie to help explain the 13-year Hall of Fame career.