Catch Joe Thomas TONIGHT at 6:30 p.m. when he co-hosts "Browns Live" powered by FirstEnergy with Nathan Zegura. The 100 percent fan-focused show, which will stream on all of the Browns social platforms, will feature multiple segments with Coach Kevin Stefanski, interviews with players, film breakdowns and more.
Each game week, Joe will share his insights, memories and more in this weekly column, "Cup of Joe."
Offensive linemen aren't wired for praise and adulation. It makes us uncomfortable.
That's because, as an offensive lineman, you learn that attention is usually a bad thing. You usually shun it because the only type of attention that an offensive lineman is usually getting is when it's bad: penalties, offsides, holding, false starts, sacks allowed, pressures, quarterback hits, mental errors. There are very few times in an offensive lineman's life cycle where he likes to have the spotlight on him. Even when you make a nice block and you scored a touchdown, typically, the focus is going to be on the person that scored the touchdown. You can run over there and do the Joel Bitonio and try to get your face on camera by giving the running back a little hug but even still, most of the time the camera and the ball carrier are saying "Get out of my way. I'm trying to show my friends and family at home who scored this touchdown."
We would always say in our o-line room, "I don't want to be the reason." If you're a receiver and you're the reason, that typically means you're the reason you won, made a great catch. But when you're the reason as an offensive lineman, they're talking about the reason you lost. You just don't want to be singled out.
Over the past week, I'm guessing there have been plenty of uncomfortable moments for the Browns offensive line. They've been the focus of a lot of praise — a lot of it coming from me! — since last week's dominant performance against the Bengals.
It had to be one of the most dominating performances that I can remember in recent memory. Thinking back, the last time the Browns offensive line and running game was that overwhelmingly dominant was probably 2014 when we played the Steelers at home in that great blowout win. Unfortunately, that was the game that Alex Mack broke his leg but I think that was the most recent game where everything you did was dominating the defense. They had their heads on a swivel because they had no idea what play was coming, and it didn't matter anyways because they couldn't stop any of them.
It's early, but what I've seen has been impressive. And I give Kevin Stefanski a lot of credit because when we had Kyle Shanahan in 2014, we really didn't run anything but outside zone. It takes some time to learn and gel because it is very different and the coordination needs to be spot on. It has to be like that Swiss watch, a timepiece that is perfectly machined and coordinated, or it doesn't work and you have big losses. But Kevin hasn't only featured outside zone. He smartly realized, "Hey, I've got Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller and JC Tretter. Those are guys that are very good at getting out in space, pulling, hitting targets." And so he's featured and sprinkled in a lot of that stuff early on.
The Browns' revamped group of blockers overcame multiple injuries to deliver a performance that featured more than 200 rushing yards from Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and zero sacks on Baker Mayfield, who had plenty of time to throw throughout Cleveland's 35-30 victory.
For Jed., Joel, JC, Wyatt, Jack, Hubb and the rest of the group, it probably feels good deep inside to get that recognition that they deserve because they're playing great football. At the same time, those guys are going to be razzing on each other, especially the ones that are getting mentioned by name by the coaching staff.
No one has likely bore the brunt of this more than Wyatt, who was singled out by Kevin on Friday.
For a head coach to single out the right guard, you have to grade out well because that's the ultimate litmus test for an offensive linemen and the coaches, But then he garnered the attention of the media and the fans by how he played probably with some nastiness and big-time blocks at the point of attack. Then you have to have a productive rushing game. The Browns did all of those things.
And now, because of all this attention, Teller might have to deal with some other consequences from his closest peers inside the O-line room.
When I played, we had a pretty healthy fine system inside the offensive line room related to garnering attention. If you got a game ball it was a $500 fine. If the coach mentioned your name in the newspaper positively, it was $200. If you had a full-on feature about yourself, like they do in training camp a lot of times, that was $250, maybe $500. If you're on the cover of the media guide — God forbid any of those guys are on the cover of the media guy — that's $1,000. The kangaroo court did a pretty good job of making sure that nobody's seeking the attention or it's going to really hurt their pocketbooks.
At the end of the year, the offensive line would go out to a really nice dinner with the money collected throughout the year. Then you'll take the rest of that money around Christmas time and give it to the people that help out in the facility during the year — your cleaning staff, your cooking staff, your trainers, your equipment managers, your interns, your football ops guys, the guys that do the dirty work, the people that don't really get that attention.
Sound familiar? Offensive linemen know how to spot them, even when we're feeling uncomfortable.