By TOM REED
The Plain Dealer
Critics have placed their share of question marks behind the names of Browns first-round draft picks since the franchise returned in 1999. With offensive tackle Joe Thomas, however, it’s always been an exclamation point.
Five seasons, five Pro Bowl nominations. Thomas is held in high regard in the Browns locker room and throughout the league.
So it’s unusual to see the left tackle leading the offensive line in penalties with four, including three holding calls. Opponents also are generating a fair amount of quarterback pressure on the left side. Some have questioned whether Thomas is playing through an injury — he’s wearing a brace on his left knee and a wrap on his right one. In the opening weeks, he also was listed on injury reports with a “knee” ailment.
The affable lineman said Wednesday he feels “pretty good” and coach Pat Shurmur added that he didn’t think Thomas’ knees were bothering him.
“Joe is battling just like everybody else up front,” Shurmur said.
Thomas, like almost everyone else, had to adjust to the replacement officials, who whistled him for three of his four infractions. All three holding calls have come on Trent Richardson rushes.
“Penalties in the run game are the cost of doing business when you are finishing guys and playing hard,” Thomas said. “It’s going to happen. For people who don’t play the position it’s something they can look at concrete because it’s the only stat [for offensive linemen] really.”
It’s worth noting that Thomas also had four penalties through the first four games a season ago, but just five the rest of the way.
The Browns have been solid in pass protection, allowing just nine sacks in four games. That total is made more impressive by the fact rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden ranks third in attempts with 161. The line faces another stern test Sunday against the New York Giants’ front four. The Giants’ sack totals are down, but its rotation of defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck are among the NFL’s best.
Thomas will see plenty of Pierre-Paul, who recorded 16.5 sacks last season. Of course, he’s used to sparring with elite ends. What’s a bit different is hearing his own play described as “OK,” the word offensive coordinator Brad Childress used a week ago.
When asked Wednesday how he thought he was performing, Thomas said: “I think it’s going fine.”