BEREA, Ohio -- For players and coaches in the National Football League, the opening of training camp is very much like the first day of school.
The Cleveland Browns may be coming off of a franchise-worst 1-15 record during the 2016 season, but as the team gets ready to start its second training camp under coach Hue Jackson at the team’s Berea headquarters later today, excitement is in the air.
“No matter how many times you go through it, there’s always that little pit in your stomach when you’re going into it with not knowing what the team is like, not knowing what practice is going to be like,” 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said.
“How is the team going to be? How am I going to be? All those first-day-of-school type things go through your head just like you are going into fifth grade for the first time.”
Last December, Thomas was selected to his 10th straight Pro Bowl, and has gone 10 for 10 in all-star game nods since entering the league via the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft out of the University of Wisconsin. Thomas became the first Browns player ever selected to participate in 10 Pro Bowls.
Thomas joined an elite group of athletes with the 10th straight selection, as defensive tackle Merlin Olsen (Los Angeles Rams), defensive back/running back Mel Renfro (Dallas Cowboys), running back Barry Sanders (Detroit Lions) and linebacker Lawrence Taylor (New York Giants) are the only other players who went 10 for 10 in Pro Bowl appearances over their first decade in the NFL.
And yet, despite all of his individual successes, Thomas still has that anxious readiness for the work to begin.
“For me, it’s exciting,” Thomas said. “It’s seeing the new guys. We’ve obviously got some outstanding draft picks that people have high expectations for, so for me, there’s the excitement of seeing if these guys can live up the bill and watching how everybody jells in training camp and all the fun things that go on -- the hard times that you persevere together with your brothers -- and it’s a fun and exciting time to be a Cleveland Brown, I think.”
That excitement level has not been limited to the players, as Jackson is very much looking forward to mentoring the team and leading them to more success than it had in 2016.
“We are looking to improve as a football team, compete, come in and do whatever we think it takes to get this organization where it needs to be,” Jackson said. “I am very excited about the roster and where we are, but we all still know there is work to be done that way.
“I know we will continue to push that way, but I think our players coming off of OTAs and the way they competed were looking forward to the summer. We have had a great summer thus far, and I think our guys are glad to be back and glad to start this opportunity again.”