CLEVELAND— An eight-time Pro Bowler and a seven-time All-Pro, Joe Thomas has spent years atop the unofficial list of the best offensive linemen in the NFL.
As it turns out, for as long as Thomas has been one of the league’s best blockers, he might be atop a separate list as well.
“I’m probably one of the weakest offensive linemen in the NFL,” Thomas said in a conference call on Monday, “But it doesn’t matter.”
The reason that Thomas’ “lack of strength” doesn’t matter is because strength, as an offensive lineman, isn’t necessarily parallel to productivity at the position.
“If you have good feet and you’re constantly in the right positions, you’re using leverage, you’re using angles, you’re winning the science of your position,” Thomas said. “It’s really not about weight-room strength. It’s more about the positions you can get your body in to be strong.”
While he certainly spends time strengthening his body in the weight room, Thomas has spent more time on the practice field and in the film room, mastering the positions that have crafted his incredibly successful career as an NFL left tackle.
It’s that kind of preparation, more so than the time in the weight room, that Thomas wants to see Browns rookie offensive lineman Cam Erving undertake as he heads into his first NFL offseason.
“It’s those techniques and the nuances of the position that I think will be the most important for Cam to work on this offseason,” Thomas said. “For young players, it’s something that it takes some time to learn.”
Erving has seen his fair share of struggle amidst his rookie season, as evidenced by a tale of various transgressions.
Drafted in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft with an expectation that he would see the field right away, Erving couldn’t earn significant playing time until the second half of the season and only did so, thanks to an injury to left guard Joel Bitoniot.
When he did finally take the field, it was evident that he wasn’t quite ready for the rigors of the NFL.
Numerous in-game videos and Vines showed Erving getting bowled over by defensive lineman on their way to the quarterback, which forced the Browns to replace Erving with undrafted, veteran guard, Austin Pasztor.
With Bitonio suffering a season-ending ankle injury, Pasztor remains the left guard, but another season-ending injury to right guard Jon Greco in Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks has given Erving a chance to play in the final two games of the season for the Browns.
Thomas feels that while Erving has shown evident improvement in each game, including Sunday’s against the Seahawks, his feet are what have caused him problems thus far.
“I think just the footwork and the technique with your footwork,” Thomas said, when asked what Erving needs to improve. “You’ll see guys getting beat in the NFL in general on the offensive line just because there feet are out of place. Your strength and your power come from where your feet are.”
Thomas feels too that Erving will be helped out by solidifying himself at a single spot, as opposed to bouncing around from one to another.
“I think he’ll be helped when he kind of gets settled in that one position,” Thomas said. “Then, you’re going to get a whole season to really focus in on that technique and the nuance of that position.”
It may be obvious that Erving has plenty to work on in order to enhance his game going into next season, but Browns coach Mike Pettine knows that Erving is someone he can work with, as he's eager to improve.
“His energy and attitude is not the issue,” Pettine said. “Sometimes it’s a physical thing, and that’s why it’s encouraging to get him out there and play and, hopefully, we can get his confidence back up.”
The hope for the Browns is that Erving continues his improvement and continues to gain confidence amidst these final two games against Kansas City and Pittsburgh, but should his problems persist, Thomas, like Pettine, still believes that Erving can be a productive professional player.
“All guys kind of mature at different times. It takes a little bit of time getting used to the NFL, it’s a different type of game schematically and the players are different,” Thomas said. “I see a guy that’s willing and eager to learn and a guy that’s getting better.”
For all of your Browns news and updates from Berea, follow Hayden Grove on Twitter: @H_Grove.