The Browns enter 2016 as one of the youngest teams in the NFL, and that's made the presence of veteran players such as Joe Haden and Joe Thomas all the more important.
"Those guys are the guys that we are going to win with," Browns coach Hue Jackson said. "They are the leaders of this football team, and they have to take the responsibility that comes with that by helping this team prepare and be ready and understand the challenge that is ahead of us."
ClevelandBrowns.com caught up with Thomas, Cleveland's nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle, after Friday's walk-through to get his perspective on the state of the Browns entering his 10th NFL season.
CB.com: Now entering your 10th season in the NFL, how are you feeling and how has your preparation been?
Thomas: I think I've got a pretty good process and a pretty good system in place getting my mind and my body ready for the season, especially the first game. This season is no different. I think there's a lot of excitement around this team right now. This offense has a chance to be really good. I'm excited to see what happens on Sunday.
CB.com: There's young guys at pretty much every position on this roster. How do you view it from a veteran's perspective?
Thomas: There's a lot of young guys on this team. I don't know if we're the youngest team in the NFL but it seems like we're darn close. With that, you get a couple of things. You know there's going to be a couple mistakes you know veterans wouldn't make in those scenarios but you're going to get guys that are flying around and playing hard, playing with a lot of energy and passion. It's fun to watch those young guys go out there and get their first NFL snaps.
CB.com: What kind of imprint has Hue Jackson left on this team and how do you think it will evolve throughout the season?
Thomas: I think the imprint Hue has left so far is to expect to win. That's kind of been our motto starting in the offseason and that's what we're going to carry through the season. I think there's a lot of confidence on this team and we're going to go out Sunday expecting to win.
Take a look at the Cleveland Browns roster as of September 1, 2017.
CB.com: Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown mentioned Friday the importance of tuning out external noise. Has that been embraced inside the locker room?
Thomas: I think that's part of learning how to be a professional. No matter what team you're on, there's distractions throughout an NFL season. That's just the way it is. I think when you learn to be a professional you've learned to understand those things don't affect how you play. Really the only thing you can do is focus on your job and doing it to the best of your ability.
CB.com: You were named one of five season-long captains on the team and one of two on offense. What have you seen from the other offensive captain, Robert Griffin III?
Thomas: Specifically talking about Robert, it's been awesome having him here as a quarterback in his first year and taking over that leadership position. That is so important when you're a quarterback, getting everybody on offense organized and holding them accountable to the high standards we have as Cleveland Browns. It's been great having those other guys with us and seeing the growth and development of Robert as a leader on this offense.
CB.com: Is it still special for you to be named a captain in your 10th season?
Thomas: There's no doubt. It's voted on by your peers and teammates and it's one of the highest honors you can get from your peers.
CB.com: The offensive line has two new starters at center and right tackle. What have you seen from Cameron Erving and Austin Pasztor?
Thomas: I think they've done a nice job. I think Cam has done a great job taking over that center position and I think we got really lucky having Austin here. He played guard for us last year but he did a great job transitioning back to right tackle, which is the position he played in Jacksonville.
CB.com: You've been high on Joel Bitonio since his rookie season. How do you see his third year play out after a 2nd season marred by injuries?
Thomas: I think Joel's going to play awesome. I think he played great last year when he was out there but unfortunately he had a number of injuries that prevented him from playing all 16 games. I expect a great season out of Joel and I think he'll be in the Pro Bowl.
CB.com: What have you tried to teach rookie offensive linemen Shon Coleman and Spencer Drango and what have you learned about them?
Thomas: I like to try to teach the young guys specifically on the offensive line the process of going through a week in the NFL, getting themselves mentally and physically ready for a game on Sunday. It's no different this year. That's kind of what I've been stressing to those guys. Hopefully that's the biggest thing they'll learn from me.
CB.com: What makes a season opener different from any other game on the schedule?
Thomas: I think the season opener is always unique because there's always a bit more emotion and passion and energy going into that first game because that's all you've been thinking about for the last seven-plus months in the offseason. You've got to be able to handle that emotionally sometimes. Things can get a little sloppy because of all that extra energy you have but I'm hoping our guys can settle down quickly and go out and get a win.
CB.com: Assess the Philadelphia defense and what kind of problems they can create.
Thomas: They've got a great front. You look at their front four starters on the defensive line and they've got two guys that have been to multiple Pro Bowls and another couple guys that have a chance to be Pro Bowlers this year. It's going to be a difficult challenge. You bring in Jim Schwartz as a defensive coordinator, a guy that's known for producing menacing, intimidating eight-man fronts that try to stop the run and try to get to your quarterback in the passing game. It's going to be a great challenge for us coming right away in Week 1.
CB.com: How different will it be to game-plan for an opponent rather than the approach that was taken throughout the preseason?
Thomas: It's completely different. It's basically the difference between practice and a game. You don't really game-plan for a practice, you just go out and you're trying to get your certain looks and you want to run certain plays out there. When it comes time to a regular season game, you're actually trying to tune your game plan and your call sheet to plays you actually think are going to work against this defense because of either the way they play or their individual one-on-one matchups.
CB.com: What makes you most excited about a Hue Jackson offense?
Thomas: He's had a history as a great offensive mind. I think he's a guy that's developed a number of great quarterbacks. He's got a very creative mind and I think he's the best man to lead the Browns offense.