BEREA — Even in a mistake-filled season by the Browns, left tackle Joe Thomas remains perfect.
The fifth-year pro was named to his fifth NFL Pro Bowl on Tuesday, earning a starting spot on the AFC’s offensive line. He joins Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown as the only Cleveland players to be selected for the game in each of their first five seasons.
“For me to be able to represent the Cleveland Browns in my fifth Pro Bowl is a big-time dream, and it’s something that is kind of hard to believe,” said Thomas, who was the third overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
“When I look back at where I was as a rookie, things were definitely rough around the edges, but I feel like I’ve made leaps and bounds of improvement since then. Knowing I’m going to another Pro Bowl, I’m really excited because it’s a tremendous honor that never gets old.”
Thomas was the only Cleveland player selected for the Jan. 29, 2012 game in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Leading tackler D’Qwell Jackson is the first alternate at inside linebacker, while Joshua Cribbs will be the second alternate at kick returner and the third alternate as a special teamer.
Jackson stands a fairly good chance of being added to the roster as Baltimore’s Ray Lewis and Kansas City’s Derrick Johnson were voted onto the AFC team. The oft-injured Lewis, however, is likely to pull out of the Pro Bowl if the Ravens make an extended postseason run.
“I certainly think there are a number of guys that do deserve to be out there with me,” Thomas said. “(Center) Alex Mack, D’Qwell Jackson, and (defensive tackle) Ahtyba Rubin are all guys that deserve it. But I understand that we need to be a team making a playoff push in order to get all the guys honored from our team.”
In the meantime, the 6-foot-6, 312-pounder from Wisconsin will carry the flag for the Browns against the NFC All-Stars. He joins Miami’s Richmond Webb as the lone offensive linemen to be picked for the Pro Bowl in their first five seasons in the Super Bowl era.
Thomas is the first Cleveland player to earn five straight Pro Bowl selections since Hall of Fame running back Leroy Kelly (1967-1972). He also becomes the 11th member of the Browns to be chosen for the game five times in a career.
Perhaps as impressive, the 27-year-old avid outdoorsman has never missed a snap since making his NFL debut on Sept. 9, 2007 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Durability is important to every offensive lineman, and I’ve certainly been blessed along those lines,” Thomas said.
He quickly added, “I try not to think about it too much because crazy things can happen during games, but I do pride myself in being a guy who plays every play. Every year is a little bit different, but as an offensive lineman, it’s important for us to be out there all the time.”
Brown and fellow Hall of Famer Lou “The Toe” Groza hold the Cleveland record with nine Pro Bowl selections apiece. Kelly, tackle Dick Schafrath, and Hall of Fame guard Gene Hickerson were chosen for six games.
Thomas now joins quarterback Otto Graham, nose tackle Michael Dean Perry, defensive lineman Bob Gain, guard Jim Ray Smith, and tackle Mike McCormack in a tie for sixth place in Browns history with five Pro Bowl nods.
Unlike the other illustrious names ahead of him, Thomas has never appeared in a playoff game, but is confident that drought will end in the near future.
“I think it will be soon because I see this thing going in the right direction,” he said. “We’ve developing players, we’re understanding the playbook much better, and we’re coming much closer to beating good teams. It’s not going to be long before we’re winning 10-games plus on a consistent basis.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.