Ed Puskas: Filling Joe Thomas’ shoes won’t be easy


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Joe Thomas

The Cleveland Browns’ next starting left tackle is going to have a difficult and thankless job.

The task of protecting his quarterback’s blind side from 6-foot-5, 250-pound edge rushers won’t even be the worst part of it.

Remember, this guy — be it Shon Coleman, Spencer Drango, Donald Stephenson or a yet-to-be-drafted rookie — must replace future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas.

The Browns did at least a couple of things right since their return to the NFL in 1999. They signed undrafted, free-agent kicker Phil Dawson in March of 1999 and selected Thomas in the first round of the NFL Draft in April 2007.

The Browns let Dawson walk after the 2012 season and haven’t really found a reliable kicker since. Now they’re searching for a replacement for Thomas, who announced his retirement last week after 11 seasons.

You have to feel for the guy who wins the job at left tackle, where Thomas played 10,363 consecutive snaps until his season-ending — and career-ending — injury in 2017. In 11 seasons, Thomas allowed 11 sacks.

Not to pick on Drango, who moved to left tackle in the wake of Thomas’ injury, but he allowed 11 sacks last season alone.

The Browns didn’t win much during Thomas’ career, but that can’t be blamed on the former University of Wisconsin lineman. For more than a decade, the Browns never had to worry about left tackle. They just penciled in “Joe Thomas” there without a second thought.

The first time a defensive end blows past a back-pedaling Browns left tackle for a sack, everyone is going to lament that No. 73 wasn’t there to save the day.

You don’t want to be the guy who replaces Joe Thomas. You’re better off being the guy who replaces the guy who replaces Joe Thomas.

No matter what Coleman, Drango, Stephenson — or anyone else who might win the job — does, they’re going to be compared incessantly to Thomas, who set the standard.

Think about Jon Heacock, who took over the Youngstown State football program after Jim Tressel’s unprecedented 15-year run of success. Heacock was part of that as an assistant, but as the Penguins’ head coach he stepped into a no-win situation because he wasn’t Tressel and because his teams didn’t do the same things his predecessor’s did.

Of course, sometimes the original legacy is such that few ever meet the standard. In YSU’s case, Eric Wolford — the guy who replaced the guy who replaced Tressel — fared no better than the guy he replaced and perhaps had a worse time of it.

The same thing is bound to happen to whomever becomes the Cleveland Cavaliers’ best player ALBJ (after LeBron James) because his predecessor makes basketball look easy.

The Browns and their fans should remember just how easy Thomas made playing left tackle appear. He didn’t win a Super Bowl or even make the playoffs, but Thomas gave the Browns every opportunity to get everything else right because they never had to worry about him.

That they didn’t get it right after drafting Thomas doesn’t diminish his greatness. Thomas was special. That was clear from the start, when he passed on attending the draft and spent the day fishing with his father.

My first thought upon hearing that was, “I think I’m going to like this guy.”

Thomas did not disappoint. That the Browns frequently did is the only regrettable thing about his Hall of Fame career. He deserved better.

Write Vindicator Sports Editor Ed Puskas at epuskas@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @EdPuskas_Vindy.The Cleveland Browns’ next starting left tackle is going to have a difficult and thankless job.

The task of protecting his quarterback’s blind side from 6-foot-5, 250-pound edge rushers won’t even be the worst part of it.

Remember, this guy — be it Shon Coleman, Spencer Drango, Donald Stephenson or a yet-to-be-drafted rookie — must replace future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas.

The Browns did at least a couple of things right since their return to the NFL in 1999. They signed undrafted, free-agent kicker Phil Dawson in March of 1999 and selected Thomas in the first round of the NFL Draft in April 2007.

The Browns let Dawson walk after the 2012 season and haven’t really found a reliable kicker since. Now they’re searching for a replacement for Thomas, who announced his retirement last week after 11 seasons.

You have to feel for the guy who wins the job at left tackle, where Thomas played 10,363 consecutive snaps until his season-ending — and career-ending — injury in 2017. In 11 seasons, Thomas allowed 11 sacks.

Not to pick on Drango, who moved to left tackle in the wake of Thomas’ injury, but he allowed 11 sacks last season alone.

The Browns didn’t win much during Thomas’ career, but that can’t be blamed on the former University of Wisconsin lineman. For more than a decade, the Browns never had to worry about left tackle. They just penciled in “Joe Thomas” there without a second thought.

The first time a defensive end blows past a back-pedaling Browns left tackle for a sack, everyone is going to lament that No. 73 wasn’t there to save the day.

You don’t want to be the guy who replaces Joe Thomas. You’re better off being the guy who replaces the guy who replaces Joe Thomas.

No matter what Coleman, Drango, Stephenson — or anyone else who might win the job — does, they’re going to be compared incessantly to Thomas, who set the standard.

Think about Jon Heacock, who took over the Youngstown State football program after Jim Tressel’s unprecedented 15-year run of success. Heacock was part of that as an assistant, but as the Penguins’ head coach he stepped into a no-win situation because he wasn’t Tressel and because his teams didn’t do the same things his predecessor’s did.

Of course, sometimes the original legacy is such that few ever meet the standard. In YSU’s case, Eric Wolford — the guy who replaced the guy who replaced Tressel — fared no better than the guy he replaced and perhaps had a worse time of it.

The same thing is bound to happen to whomever becomes the Cleveland Cavaliers’ best player ALBJ (after LeBron James) because his predecessor makes basketball look easy.

The Browns and their fans should remember just how easy Thomas made playing left tackle appear. He didn’t win a Super Bowl or even make the playoffs, but Thomas gave the Browns every opportunity to get everything else right because they never had to worry about him.

That they didn’t get it right after drafting Thomas doesn’t diminish his greatness. Thomas was special. That was clear from the start, when he passed on attending the draft and spent the day fishing with his father.

My first thought upon hearing that was, “I think I’m going to like this guy.”

Thomas did not disappoint. That the Browns frequently did is the only regrettable thing about his Hall of Fame career. He deserved better.

Write Vindicator Sports Editor Ed Puskas at epuskas@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @EdPuskas_Vindy.

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