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Joe Thomas makes it 8 for 8 with another trip to Pro Bowl


Joe Thomas chuckled at the question. The veteran offensive tackle has a way with words and regularly fills up reporters' notebooks, but he truly didn't know how to answer this one.

Just how much longer can the Browns' left tackle perform at this level?

"That's a good question. I don't have an answer for you," Thomas said Monday. "I know it's easy to think, 'Oh, I can do this for another 10 years,' or 'I don't think I can do it for another year.' I think that decision always has to get made at the end of the season when you have a chance to decompress a little bit from what happens during a season, and you make a good decision based on that.

"All I can say is I feel pretty good right now, and I'm excited about playing one more. Hopefully, at least one more season."

Cleveland fans certainly want more than that because Thomas hasn't shown any signs of slowing down. Even as he endured one of the more radical offensive philosophy shifts of his NFL career, Thomas had one of his best seasons yet with the Browns.

It's why announcements like Tuesday's have become little more than a formality when it pertains to Thomas. He's headed to his eighth Pro Bowl in as many seasons because he continues to play one of the game's most important positions at such an elite level.

"From an NFL player standpoint and beyond that, he's just the total package, very professional, high character," coach Mike Pettine said last week. "Sometimes you have superstar players that are top of their game that there's a sense of entitlement or they don't practice as hard. He's the exact opposite of that. We give him a day off, but it's like we're protecting him from himself. He'd want to go.

"To me, you know you've got a special guy when one of your best players is also one of your best examples and your best worker."

That example has been contagious, particularly with rookie left guard Joel Bitonio, who was among the numerous Browns players to receive the most Pro Bowl fan votes at his respective position. Bitonio has thrived during his rookie season, and he's been quick to credit Thomas for his rapid development.

Quarterback Brian Hoyer appropriately calls Thomas "Mr. Brown" for the impact he's had on the franchise that goes well beyond his play on the field.

"He's a Hall of Famer in my book," Bitonio said. "I've never seen someone, just watching on TV, play as well as he does on a consistent basis. He doesn't get beat. It's rare he gets beat and this guy is unbelievable."

The arrival of Kyle Shanahan has tested Thomas in ways he hadn't been under the Browns' previous offensive coordinators. A dominant pass protector, Thomas was tasked with a bigger role in the Browns' running game for Shanahan's scheme.

Shanahan admitted he wasn't sure how Thomas would respond. He soon realized what kind of player he had in the veteran from Wisconsin.

"He's done better than I expected," Shanahan said. "There's a reason that he's one, if not the best to play the position and he's been to the Pro Bowl every year of his career."

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