G Joel Bitonio (10.8.20)

G Joel Bitonio:

On why the Browns’ 3-1 start feels ‘legitimate’ and if the team’s NFL rankings in takeaways and rushing help validate it:

“I think it is a good start. Turnover margin is one of the big key team stats in the league. The teams that have a high plus-turnover margin usually make the playoffs and do pretty well for themselves. We have been stressing that. We are just trying to find our identity. As a team, that quarter of the season is over, and (Head) Coach (Kevin Stefanski) does a good job of really trying to take it one week at a time. We are playing one week, and this week, we have the Colts, who are a 3-1 team themselves and who has been a really steady team so far, as well. We are really trying to grow each week. Obviously, we want to win games, we want to keep winning and 3-1 is a great start, but we just want to improve each week. This week, it is take on the Colts, try to establish our gameplan as an offense and keep taking the ball away as a defense.”

On the Browns running game continuing to succeed at Dallas despite the loss of RB Nick Chubb and the confidence that provides the team:

“No one replaces Nick Chubb. The guy is a stud. That one hurts seeing him go down for a little bit, but it is the NFL and that kind of stuff happens unfortunately. The guys picked up. (RB) Kareem Hunt has proven that he is a No. 1 back in this league. (RBs) D’Ernest (Johnson) and Dontrell (Hilliard) both came in and had some good runs. I think there were even more yards out there if we would have blocked a few things a little bit better. It was nice to see. It is always good to see guys get touches and see when they perform. You see them in practice and you see them make plays in camp, but once you get on the field, you are like, ‘OK, these guys can do some things in a real NFL game.”

On the next step for the Browns as a team to accomplish their goals:

“I think it is consistency and consistently winning. We have not had a winning season yet since I have been here. It takes one week at a time like I was talking about. Us taking the next step is we have won some of the games that we are supposed to win and we have lost some of the games that we are supposed to lose, and that is where we have to start turning some of those [into wins], where it is like, ‘Hey, this team might not be supposed to win this game, but they are going to come in and get a win in those situations.’ Obviously, the end goal is making the playoffs. I think that is a huge step for our team, but that is so far in the future that we try not to think about it. We try to take it one step at a time, and right now, it is against the Colts and try and stack another win.”

On the Colts defense and their high NFL ranking across many categories:

“They are a good front, a good defense all and all. They have a D line that they just brought (Colts DT) DeForest Buckner in from San Fran, and he is having a heck of a year. He was pressuring the quarterback and penetrating on the defense, and he makes plays. Everybody just plays hard. The linebackers know where they are supposed to be and they run to their gaps fast. Everybody kind of just rallies. Like we talked about with our defense, they are creating turnovers. They have had a few pick-sixes. They have stopped teams in the red zone with interceptions. They lead the league in interceptions with seven. That has been impressive to watch. I think the No. 1 key, besides having good players, is they just get to the ball. No matter where it is, they are running, they are playing hard and they have guys who are kind of on a mission right now.”

On if his past experience with the Browns as a rookie helps his focus on the one week at a time mentality:

“The NFL is such a week-to-week business. I think you see it every week where you see a team get blown out by someone they shouldn’t, and then the next week, they win a game they shouldn’t. It is such a week-to-week business and a season-long business that you really have to stay the course. You can’t get too high and you can’t get too low. Honestly, Coach Stefanski has done a great job of that. He is so the same guy every day. No matter what the situation is and all of these COVID protocols and things of that nature, he is just the same guy every day. I think that leads the team to being the same team every day. We are all about the work right now. Things can change in a heartbeat. My rookie year, I was like, ‘It is easy to win in this league.’ Like you said, we were in first place, we beat the Bengals on Thursday night and I was like, ‘Man, we are doing some fun things here.’ We did not win another game the rest of the way [except for the Falcons game], and it has kind of been a tough stretch since then. It is a week-to-week business. You see that all the time. You have a great game, and then someone comes and punches in the mouth and you have to rebound from that. The most consistent team is going to have a lot of success, and that is what we have been preaching as a group is just keep improving on little things every week because every game we find something that we want to work on and we want to fix.”

On if he shares that lesson from his rookie season with other Browns players about keeping the focus on one week at a time:

“I think we are in a good spot. I think most guys, no one is really reading the outside noise right now. We are happy with the start we have had and we won some games that we wanted to win, but we know we have to keep working and keep improving. It is kind of just a known thing in the locker room. I don’t think anybody really needs to go around preaching those things. Coach Stefanski has done a good job of keeping everybody as that consistent, same person every day.”

On Buckner’s ability and if all three of the Browns interior OL will be matched up against Buckner:

“He lines up everywhere. He is mainly the 3-technique in their base defense so he will switch from the right to the left side, depending on the strength of the formation and things like that, and then pass-rush downs, he will line up on both sides. It is definitely me and (G) Wyatt (Teller) for the majority of the time and then (C) JC (Tretter) will get his chances to get in there, as well. It is his length. He has long arms and he is tall, but he plays with great leverage and strength, as well. Some of the tall guys will sit up a little bit, but he has great knee bend. Some of the best rushers in the league have this hot and cold streak where they go hot for a few plays and take a few plays off. This guy, he plays hard every play. We noticed that in San Fran when we watched the film last and played against him that he just plays hard. That is something that when you are that talented, it really stands out on film.”

On the Browns OL’s success and top rankings across the NFL, particularly given some of the unit’s struggles last season:

“Yeah, it has been good. Coach Callahan, (assistant offensive line) Coach (Scott) Peters and (coaching assistant) Coach Ryan (Cordell), they have done a good job putting us in position in this shortened offseason to try and be successful. The guys came out and worked during training camp and stuff. It has been fun. Jed (T Jedrick Wills Jr.) has come in and he is so quiet. Sometimes I wonder and I’m like, ‘Does this guy know what he’s doing?’ Then we get out to the game, and he is perfect on his assignments and things of that nature. It has been fun. (T) Jack (Conklin) has been to the playoffs before. He has played a lot of big games. JC has been here forever, and (G) Wyatt (Teller) is having a heck of year, as well, so far. It has just been fun. You see a good block on film and you are like, ‘Alright, I want to get my good block in now or my knockdown or something of that nature.’ I think we feed off each other in that sense where it is we are competitive as a group but we just want to keep improving. Honestly, the scheme, the play script and all those things, we have not been in those situations, besides Baltimore a little bit where we had to drop back and pass 40-50 times, and that is when the O line becomes at a disadvantage because the team can just start to tee off on them and run their games and their blitzes. When you only drop back passing 10-15 times a game and everything else is off boots and play actions, it gives the offensive line a chance to really fire off and get on the guys, and it slows their pass rushers down a little bit, as well.”


On seeing WR Odell Beckham Jr. showing all of his ability and versatility in the Dallas game:

“Like you said, you see it every day in practice how special of an athlete he is. He does things. He can throw the ball. He can run. He can play soccer. He can do everything that you want. When those big plays happened, it was just impressive. I know it was really special for him and (WR) Jarvis (Landry) to connect on that touchdown, and we have been running that play since the start of training camp. We have done that a bunch of time so we were waiting to get that one called. It was pretty cool. Those reverses, it was really surreal. The second one, I was running to try and block the safety, and I felt like the crowd got really loud so I was like, ‘That is probably not a good sign.’ I thought he was going to get tackled in the backfield. Him making that guy miss was super impressive and then going down to score. It is just things that you have seen him do before in practice, but when it comes out in the game, it must be something about playing the Cowboys or something like that. He shines on the biggest stage.”


On Beckham Jr. playing soccer:

“He just is always out there kicking the ball and talking about it and stuff. He does things with the football like soccer players do and stuff like that. It is pretty impressive.”


On what Stefanski has done to impress him most:

“From Day 1 of the offseason program that it was not a normal offseason program, he has taken account whoever handles the COVID situation the best is going to have a leg up. It is not going to guarantee you win games or anything, but who is going to hit these curve balls? We are wearing masks and the tracking devices and we are not allowed to do as much outside the facility and things like that, but it is all about ball right now. He has really stressed that. We could not be together as much in the offseason, but he had us sharing our personal stories with each other so us players can get to know each other, new free agents and stuff, too. Just team building things in that aspect. As a coach, I talked about it a little earlier, he is just as consistent as they come. There are no ups and there are no downs. If we have a bad practice, he is going to let us know, and if there is a bad play, he is going to let us know, but coming out to work, it is the same guy every day and he is like this is what you are going to expect from me and this is how we are going to roll. As a play caller, he is taking his risks. That is a heck of a play to call on first down when you need a first down to win the game towards the end of the game against Dallas. As an O lineman, our first 15 so far has been very O line friendly where we can get after guys, there are the keepers and there are boots and things of that nature where it gets us in a rhythm on offense. I think he keeps everyone involved in the sense where it is all about the turnover margin. If we can take care of the ball and if the defense can keep taking it away, that is how teams make the playoffs in this league and you are not giving teams free points and more of we are trying to take advantage when (DE) Myles (Garrett) and the guys can get us the ball back.”


On if it is exciting that the root of the Browns offense is the run game and OL typically loving to run block:

“Yeah, it has been fun to establish the run a little bit. Three hundred yards in the NFL, that does not happen very often. Running for a couple hundred yards two weeks before was impressive, too. It is one of those things where as long as we can run the ball, we are not going to be in those third-and-8, third-and-9 and third-and-12 situations when they can tee off and turn into a one-on-one pass rush. Just as an O-line, you just build confidence, and you say, ‘Hey we are going to take our shots on play-action’ and you start wearing down guys. I know they get tired when they pass rush, but leaning on guys, double-teaming guys and getting guys on the ground, all that stuff just cumulatively wears on the guy throughout the game. Towards the end when you need to make a big play, you have a chance to really open things up. It is definitely something that we want to lean on and continue to do and then take our shots when we get the chance and get over the top of our weapons.”

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