Joe Thomas: Browns feel 2018 is 'true reflection' of Hue Jackson

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Joe Thomas

Offensive tackle, Retired

Born: Dec. 4, 1984

Experience: 11 NFL seasons

Interview by Nick Shook | July 24, 2018

The last couple years of my career were a big struggle. Every day, every practice was really tough to get me ready just because I was dealing with so much joint issues, so much joint pain, swelling, constant draining of my knee, injections, pain pills. It was a real big struggle to get out there and be ready to play.

Going into my 11th season [in 2017], I had offseason knee surgery and I was ready to retire because I really didn't think I could do it anymore. But I told myself I needed to at least give the rehab a chance, and then if I didn't come back, then I would retire. But if I could come back, I would just go as far as I could.

About the only person, probably only two people who knew about that, were my agent and my wife. I felt that in the best interest of the Browns and the team, it's not really relevant for anybody to know what I'm going through personally and it would only become a distraction from the team and what we were trying to do, so it was just best to keep that quiet.

I think I entered every season with hope. I think that's the mind frame you have to get yourself into because it gives you the best chance to prepare for a season, and I think you have to have that positive outlook. But at the same time, I also knew that the only thing I could do to try and help our team have a successful season was to do my job as well as I could, so that was my focus.

A lot of frustration boiled to the surface when we fired Rob Chudzinski after less than a season on the job. That was probably the height of my frustration during my NFL career. I felt that if you hired a guy and then fired him a year later, it says something about who the people are that are in charge and the decisions that they're making that less than a year later, they can think what they did was a mistake. When you ask a football team and an organization to get behind a head coach, everyone's under the assumption that they're going to be the coach for a while and they're going to get a fair chance. I just didn't feel that one year was a fair chance to turn a franchise around.

I think part of being an NFL player is dealing with those little frustrations. But at the end of the day, when you get back into the building, you start focusing on your job again and you don't really worry about that other stuff. And as soon as the new coach comes in, I think there's a little ice-breaking period but then everyone is fully behind that new coach.

I think [the Browns' front office] learned that you have to be careful in the hiring process and get the right person. But then, once you get the right person, you have to give them the resources and the time to get the job done. I think right now, Hue being retained after only winning one game in his first two years is more a factor of the strategy that was employed when he got hired.

I think it's been widely accepted that the strategy the Browns took was essentially the Philadelphia 76ers' tank strategy, where they were going to save draft picks and salary cap space for future seasons because they didn't think that they had enough talent at the time to make the playoffs. So I think the results they got in [Jackson's] first two years were almost expected results, and they didn't feel it was necessarily a reflection of Hue's job as a head coach.

Now I think the strategy has changed a little bit, and they've added a significant amount of talent through the draft and free agency. Now I think that ownership feels what Hue does this year is a true reflection of him as a coach.

It is what it is. I try not to focus on [the fact that my final years were with poor teams]. I just focus on the good times, the fun that I had and I'm hoping that even though we weren't very good [during] my last couple of years, my hope is that I was there building the foundation for future successes and that someday they can look back and say, "Well, those couple really terrible years that they had, we learned a lot," and "We had a lot of young guys getting experience and they built a core group of young, talented players in those seasons that took them on a great run in the future."

I guess I never really accepted [being the face of the Browns].

I think what separated me from other guys was my film study and understanding how the body worked. Understanding my opponent and the preparation that I put in every day to go out and succeed on Sundays. I think that separated me from other tackles.

[The 2008 season was] hugely disappointing. That would be the storyline for me. Being that we were 10-6 the year before, I think we added good talent the next year, and for some reason it didn't click. I think a large part of it was the injuries we sustained in training camp, specifically with Braylon (Edwards) having to sit out most of training camp and then coming back for the first game. There was chemistry problems and timing issues in the offense, and we just never got things rolling the way we did the year before.

I'm not sure. I think Brady [Quinn] had a lot of chances in the NFL with a lot of different teams. I'm never going to claim to be a quarterback guru but it seemed like in the places that he went, he struggled throwing the ball down the field accurately. I'm not sure if that's an accurate reflection of the scouting report on Brady and why his career never took off, but it seemed like that was the complaint when he was in Cleveland. He's great with the intangibles, the leadership, he can efficiently run an offense, he's super smart, he can distribute the ball short, but he struggles with throwing the ball accurately down the field.

I can say confidently that I don't think [rookie] Austin Corbett is going to play tackle in the NFL. I got to spend all of spring there watching film and practicing and coaching him up and he's certainly a guard or a center.

I think what the Austin Corbett pick says is [the Browns] felt it was really good value and they could develop him for the future depending on what happens. [Adding] more good linemen is always a good thing, and they felt that where they were in the draft was really good value. I agree.

I think Austin is going to be a really good player. I think he's got a really good situation right now where he can grow and maybe become the center of the future, or depending on what they do with Joel [Bitonio]. If they try to move Joel to tackle, they could put Austin at guard. But yeah, Joel would be the first guy out at tackle, and then they would probably put Austin or Spencer Drango at guard.

[This is based on] his skill set. Austin, God bless him, is not a tackle. He does not have the speed that you need to be able to block edge rushers. He does [have heavy feet]. I think he's very well-suited for guard, for center, but he's not really tall or lanky. He's not a basketball player. I think typically you want your tackles to be kind of former basketball players.

It's a big jump going from college to the pros. There's a lot you have to learn and you really are overwhelmed with the playbook and the guys that you're going against, but you just do your best to try to not get yelled at.

You become more comfortable with everything that goes on in training camp [as you get older]. You're more comfortable with your role on the team and you understand the game so much better that it's a lot easier and less stressful the later you are in your career because you know what to expect and you know how to handle yourself. But it's never easy.

I think it was easy [to deal with trade rumors]. Early on in my career, I learned to not worry about things that you don't control. It's human nature to worry about stuff, but I realized that it was just wasted energy and that I just need to focus on me and my job and what I have control over. I think learning that early on in my career, playing for a team that hadn't been winning but still understanding the importance of doing my job, [that] made it easy later on in my career when there was a lot of trade rumors to just focus on what I had to do. If something happened, if my situation changed, then deal with it at that point.

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