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News » Browns tackle Thomas striving to improve

Browns tackle Thomas striving to improve

Browns tackle Thomas striving to improve
BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Once the guys over at Alside Supply finished painting the forklift in their warehouse orange, brown and white, they wanted to give it a name.

That was easy: Joe Thomas.

"It's a muscle machine," said Lou Bacho, who refurbished the forklift with a couple co-workers. "It pushes heavy stuff around all day long. Just like Joe."

Of the many accolades Thomas received following the left tackle's sensational first season in the NFL - he was only the fourth rookie lineman to make the Pro Bowl - having a forklift named in his honor may have been the most appropriate praise. Like many Cleveland fans, Thomas is blue collar, a carry-your-lunch-pail-to-work kind of player who does his job without any frill or fanfare.

Long before his standout season, during which he allowed one disputed sack in 16 games, Thomas had made a huge impression on the Browns by the way he conducted himself on draft day in 2007. Instead of joining the other top college stars in New York for a weekend of frivolity, Thomas went fishing in Wisconsin with his father.

But that's Thomas: unassuming, loyal and humble. He's a clean-cut Midwest kid whose immense talents are matched by an insatiable desire to get better.

"Coming in as a rookie, I wanted to have a Hall of Fame career," Thomas said. "That's the goal. You want to be the best of the best. If you don't, you're not working hard enough."

Thomas' impact on Cleveland's offensive line was enormous last season. He stepped in at one of the most high-profile positions in the game and played it as if he were a 10-year veteran. Not once did Thomas appear overwhelmed by the responsibility of protecting quarterback Derek Anderson's blindside or blocking for Jamal Lewis.

"Joe's amazing," Anderson said. "We put him on their best defensive player every game, and he gave up one sack. As a rookie, that doesn't happen a lot. We expect a lot from him, and he's up to it every week."

Thomas was fortunate to join the Browns when he did. Cleveland's offensive line had been a disaster for years, but the addition of veteran center Hank Fraley in 2006 and free agent guard Eric Steinbach before last season helped solidify the Browns up front, turning a glaring weaknesses into a growing strength.

Fraley has been impressed with Thomas from the first time he met the 6-foot-6, 305-pounder. Following practice on Monday, Fraley came off the field shaking his head about his friend's speed, strength and agility.

"Today, I was watching him in one on ones," Fraley said. "It was like, 'Gosh, he makes it look so easy.' And even if he is off balance, he's able to get himself back into position. He's just one of those pros who just has 'it.' And not everybody has 'it' like he does. He's one of those guys who is going to be special for a long time in this league. It's fun to watch him play."

Thomas takes all the praise in stride. Ask him what he didn't do well last season and what he needs to work on, and the former Wisconsin All-American rattles off a lengthy to-do list for training camp.

"There wasn't a whole bunch of things last year where it was, 'Man I was terrible,"' said Thomas, who didn't miss an offensive snap. "I think I did some things that were OK. I think my technique can get better and that has been the thing we've been working on."

Thomas didn't initially make the Pro Bowl last season. He was selected as an alternate, but got a trip to Hawaii when Buffalo's Jason Peters pulled out. In Honolulu, Thomas was like a tourist in shoulder pads. Not long after taking the field at the AFC team's first practice, Thomas looked around at the game's top stars and realized a boyhood dream had come true.

"Being with those guys," he said. "I was in middle school when I saw them play in the Pro Bowl. That was a pretty cool thing for me."

Of all his teammates, one stood out.

"Peyton Manning," Thomas said. "He's been considered one of the best players in football for a while now. He's been doing it for so long and he's just so professional at everything. I wanted to just watch him work."

At about the same time back in Cleveland, Bacho and co-workers John Masters and Nick Dempsey were fixing up their forklift, which like Cleveland's offensive line, needed some major repair. When they finished, the trio contacted Browns general manager Phil Savage, who after seeing photos of the forklift, invited them to a practice where they met Thomas.

"He's just an everyday person," Bacho said. "Joe's a real cool guy."

Thomas, too, enjoyed the meeting and was thrilled to be forever linked to a piece of heavy machinery. It's a tribute that flashy wide receiver Braylon Edwards will never match.

"It's cool," Thomas said. "Being an offensive lineman nobody notices you or knows your face or paints a forklift after you," Thomas said with a laugh. "It's the kind of thing that's unique to a Cleveland-type town, where the people really respect the guys in the trenches, the blue-collar guys on the line."

Especially the one on the far left side.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: August 4, 2008

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Kamerion Wimbley Name: Kamerion Wimbley
Position: LB
Age: 24
Experience: 3 years
College: Florida State
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