It is likely true that there has never been a better left tackle in Cleveland than Joe Thomas, and it is undoubtedly there is no better guest on Cleveland Browns Daily than the great "HOF," who joined the show Thursday to preview the start of full-team practices.
This will be a training camp unlike anyone before it, and it presents many unique challenges, the biggest of which is "just not getting the reps," Thomas said. In a normal offseason, Thomas noted, "you're talking about, between preseason games, training camp practices and offseason (OTA) practices, you're talking probably eight full weeks of pretty intense practices, so you're getting a lot of reps in those periods."
It is typically in that time that you are able to install your offense and whittle the playbook down to exactly what the team does best. This year, the Browns "won't have that luxury," said Thomas, who added, "with no preseason games and limited practices, they're barely going to have everything installed … by the regular season opener."
Always one with an eye toward the future, Thomas astutely pointed out "this really is going to be a case study of how much practice we really need to have good football out there for the fans."
Thomas knows that the challenge is daunting but feels confident the Browns will get the job done on offense under head coach Kevin Stefanski. For those keeping score at home, it should be noted Thomas will be supremely focused on one training camp tell to indicate whether this team will be ready to roll Week 1.
"The most important thing for them to learn is how to run the outside zone," Thomas said, "because if they can get good at that one play, then they can set up everything else that they want from the offense that is easier to learn. They can set up the play-action pass, they can set up the inside zone.
"The whole offense is built around, can you run the outside zone effectively, so they are going to put all their eggs in that basket, I can guarantee it."
It's all about reps, but as the Thomas said, "the genius of the system is you're doing the same thing over and over again. The wide zone scheme is wide zone left and wide zone right. There is no offense that features one play more than the outside zone in the Kyle Shanahan/Kevin Stefanski type offense."
Check out photos of the team working out Sunday
Thomas expects this training camp to be more geared toward getting the starters ready than the typical training camp, which features a mix of getting ready for the season and top-to-bottom roster evaluation.
"Clearly the emphasis of the training camp will be different than normal," Thomas said. "It's going to be accelerated with a total focus on the starting crew. They are going to get as many reps as possible."
It is always tough for the offense in training camp, Thomas said, but "if we go out there in that first week or the first scrimmage and those guys are running the outside zone and it looks pretty good, I'm going to feel really confident about where that offense is going to be … that's what I am going to be watching like a hawk."
Part of getting to the edge on the wide zone left will be the progress of rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., who "will be thrown into the fire from Day 1," Thomas said. It is always challenging for a top pick, but this year is even more difficult because Wills will have to get ready without the benefit of even a single preseason game. Thomas thinks that is a tall task but believes in Wills and expects rapid improvement once the Browns hit the regular season.
"It's going to be a little tough in the beginning, that's just the way it is when you transition from college to the NFL, especially at the position of left tackle," Thomas said.
However, Thomas fully believes Wills is up to the task, adding "I know what type of player he is, and he's going to be. That first game, he might not be super proud of how he plays right away, but he is going to pick it up and I guarantee in two or three weeks, he's going to look so much different than he did in Week 1 … the strides he's going to make from Game 1 to Game 3 to Game 6 are going to be incredible."
In addition to the focus on the offensive preparation and Wills, Thomas provided some powerful insight into the offseason of TE David Njoku, Myles Garrett's new contract, the techniques of this offense, QB Baker Mayfield and much more in a 20-plus minute interview on Cleveland Browns Daily.