Bengals’ Jones, Browns’ Thomas named AP All-Pro

Joe Thomas (left) and Adam Jones have both been named to the AP All-Pro team for 2014.

Ron Schwane / Charles LeClaire/Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Jones of the Bengals and Joe Thomas of the Browns were among the first-team members of this year’s Associated Press All-Pro team, while Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth was named to the second-team on Friday.

The team is chosen from among 50 voters across the country and encompasses the entire NFL.

This is the seventh time in Thomas’ eight seasons that the Cleveland left tackle has been honored by the AP, including his fifth selection to the first-team. Jones, named as the top kick returner in the NFL, and Whitworth are being recognized for the first time.

There were a total of seven players from the Bengals and Browns who received votes for what it viewed as one of the league’s top postseason awards. While the Pro Bowl has the reputation of being a popularity contest, the AP All-Pro team is held in higher regard.

"It’s a little bit different from the Pro Bowl," said Jones, who became the first Bengals player to lead the NFL in kickoff returns and was fourth in punt returns but wasn’t named to the Pro Bowl. "I’ve got to take my hat off to (special teams) coach Darrin (Simmons) and the guys up front that they’re doing a great job blocking. It’ll be a good week to show why you guys picked us first. We’re eager for the challenge and hopefully we can get in some good situations to make some plays."

The Bengals play in an AFC wild card game Sunday at Indianapolis, which features first-team All-Pro punter Pat McAfee and kicker Adam Vinatieri. Jones averaged a franchise-record 31.3 yards on kickoffs, with a long of 97 yards, and 11.9 yards on punt returns, with a long of 47 yards. He had 49 touches on returns for 1,106 yards to go along with his regular duties on defense as a cornerback where he made 63 tackles, came up with three interceptions and 11 pass breakups.

Jones had just 44 returns for 489 yards in his previous four seasons with the Bengals because of coaches’ concerns over using him too much.

"I just think with the timing of everything and the importance of everything they pick and choose when they want me to go back but it’s been more this year," said Jones. "I like the challenge. I think I’m in good enough shape to play defense and do kick return and punt return but I’ll let it play itself out and let the game come to me."

Bengals backfield duo key to success

Thomas continues to be a foundation for the Browns, as he has been since they chose him No. 3 overall in 2007 out of Wisconsin. He received 22 votes, second among tackles behind Dallas’ Tyron Smith (35).

Whitworth was third in balloting with 14 votes. According to Pro Football Focus, Whitworth did not allow a sack this season and only one quarterback hit.

Kevin Huber of the Bengals was among the other punters receiving votes, while three Browns were among those getting votes — guard Joel Bitonio, cornerback Joe Haden and safety Tashaun Gipson.

Gipson led the AFC and was second in the NFL with six interceptions despite missing five games, including final four of the season with a knee injury. He led the NFL with 158 return yards on interceptions, including a 62-yard touchdown against New Orleans in a 26-24 win in Week 2.

Six other players with Ohio connections were honored by the AP. Carolina middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (Cincinnati/St. Xavier HS) and Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell (Columbus/Groveport Madison HS) were each named to the first team at their positions, while former University of Cincinnati player Connor Barwin, now playing for Philadelphia, was named second-team at outside linebacker. It is the second consecutive first-team honor for Kuechly.

Kuechly was the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 and the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.

Three centers who grew up and played their college ball in Ohio were among those receiving votes: Nick Mangold (Kettering Alter/Ohio State), Jason Kelce (Cleveland Heights/UC) and rookie Corey Linsley (Youngstown Boardman/Ohio State). Mangold has twice been named first-team (2009, 2010) and once second-team (2011) in his career.