CLEVELAND — Joe Thomas won't be able to play another down this season, but that won't stop the Pro Bowl left tackle from trying to help lift the Browns to their first win.
Thomas, who suffered a season-ending triceps injury last month, returned to the practice field Wednesday, albeit in a different way than so many times before. Trading his shoulder pads for sweats and a knit hat, the veteran was something of an assistant coach as Cleveland prepares for a road trip to Detroit.
"Coach Thomas has a lot of experience, doesn't he?" coach Hue Jackson said, laughing. "It's a lot of fun having him out there."
Indeed, it was good to see Thomas back in Berea, having spent the past two weeks recovering from surgery. But perhaps most of all, the whole sight was a reminder how Thomas -- who had previously never missed a snap in his entire career -- remains an integral part of the Browns' locker room.
"Joe, as I keep telling you guys, is a huge part of what we do," Jackson said, "not just we wish he was out there for us, but the players, he's a mentor to a lot of these guys in a lot of different ways."
Jackson stressed the Browns want Thomas to be as involved as much as he can. After Thomas missed the team's trip to London, the Browns want him to travel to road games, including this weekend against the Lions.
"This is still his team," Jackson said. "Having him around and having him want to be a part of that is very important to me, to our players, to our staff and to all involved."
Left guard Joel Bitonio said Thomas' choice to come to practice when he could be elsewhere doesn't surprise him.
"I mean, it's why he's the best. He's given so much to the city, this team. You wouldn't expect it any other way," Bitonio said.
"It was weird when he wasn't in meetings, you know, recovering after surgery and stuff, I'm like, I kind of felt lost without him for a little bit, but he's been back in there and he's been helping out. I think it hurts him not being out there on Sunday's obviously, but like you said, he's trying to be as much of a part of it as he can."
Jackson likes having Thomas around as much as possible.
"I think he misses it. Again, Joe Thomas is a football player. This is all he has ever known. The guy hasn't missed many snaps," he said.
"He hadn't missed any snaps until this happened so that's what is in his blood. He's a football player by trade and a mentor and a coach when he's not. I think it's hard to let that go.
"He's invited to anything we have. He knows that," Jackson continued. "He can run the meeting if he wants. As long as you give him the right information, we're all good."