Hue Jackson thought he knew everything there was to know about Joe Thomas before he took over as Cleveland's head coach.
For years, whether he was at Baltimore, Oakland or Cincinnati, Jackson watched Thomas dominate his position as one of the game's top left tackles. He knew of the reliability and Thomas' rare feat of having never missed a single snap. He knew he had a roster full of uncertainty in Cleveland but was set at left tackle for 2016 and beyond.
Nearly a full year with Thomas, though, has opened Jackson's eyes to even more -- and it all adds up to why Thomas was named the team's Walter Payton Man of the Year for the third time in his 10 years in Cleveland.
"You can look from afar and hear all the different stories. I knew how good of a football player he was but I did not know how good of a person he is, as a pro and leader he is in the locker room," Jackson said. "I think it is important to him."
It certainly is, and Thomas has proven that in innumerable ways during his 10 seasons with the Browns. The 9,684 consecutive snaps streak is only the beginning for the nine-time Pro Bowler who, at the age of 32, is still regarded as one of the NFL's best at one of its most important positions.
Awards have been tossed Thomas' way all throughout the past decade. Still, even in a frustrating 0-12 season, this one remained "one of the best awards I have ever received," Thomas said.
"It just feels really special to be recognized," Thomas said. "I think I have made Cleveland my home and it is a very special city to me, and so part of being in the NFL to me is service and giving back to your community and the people that support you every Sunday so I think it is great to be recognized. Even though that is not why you do the things that you do, but it still does feel good when your name gets mentioned in the end."
Jackson and Thomas have quickly grown close during their near-year together. As Jackson said to open his Wednesday press conference, the two talk often, and he learns as much from Thomas as Thomas learns from him.
Last week, Thomas called Jackson an "exceptional" coach and cited him as one of his top reasons to be optimistic about the team's future beyond this season's final four games. Jackson responded by labeling Thomas as a "tremendous asset" to the entire Browns organization.
"I can't say enough about my opportunity to be around him this year," Jackson said. "If there is a silver lining in this, it is the time and conversations that I have had with him because he has taught me a lot and taught me a lot about what being a pro truly is, coming in here every day and just finding a way to get it done and then walking out on Sunday and competing the way he does. You can't say enough about him.
"Joe Thomas means too much to this organization and to this football team. As I said to everybody, I want us to do right by him. Right by that is let's go get this man some wins. He deserves that. He deserves to be on a winning football team and have a chance to chase playoffs and championships."