G Joel Bitonio (6.2.20)

G Joel Bitonio:

On if he has had discussions with teammates about what more can be done to raise awareness for social justice efforts:

“We have had a team meeting. We had one yesterday to kind of kick off the week and get a feel for what is going on, and everybody is kind of in different parts of the country right now, and to really understand the toll of what is going on. I think the conclusion we came to is obviously there is injustice in this world right now, and people are hurting. People need help, and we are going to try and use our power in our position to help them. (WR) Jarvis (Landry) came up and he spoke to the team for maybe 10 minutes yesterday and just tried to tell us how we can use our platform a little bit better because I think the vast majority of people want to help and want to improve the situation. (Head) Coach (Kevin) Stefanski gave us a list of different things that we can go about, and that is really just getting in our communities – going out and voting, not just presidential and not just nationwide but locally. What can we do locally to help? Then it is going back and giving to the kids that need the help. I think hate is really truly taught throughout the world, and if you can get to younger kids and grow and show that everybody, we are in this together, this is our one world and we can grow and be the best people and treat people with respect, that is where we kind of have to start. You have to start down low. I know the NFL is having a Players Coalition that is going to go and try and meet and discuss some of the things to do. We are taking those steps, and we are trying to see where that goes from there. I know right now it is highlighted, but I think to truly make a difference, we have to continue to push this dialogue past just this week or this month and continue to try and fix the issues.”

 

On his gauge of the climate in the locker room and what some of his African-American teammates have shared about their experiences with social injustice: 

“We are from different parts of life, different parts of the country. When you are in the facility, you get a better understanding, but right now, I am in Ohio, I go home and I am with my wife and my daughter, and that is kind of the life I see, but you discuss and you try and listen to them and really understand where they are going. Some of my best friends in life have been through some really, really tough situations with law enforcement or just in general, and you try and listen to understand what they are going through. I think people are hurting, though. I think there is a real hurt and a real cry for help, and they want people to listen to them and understand where they are coming from. I think that is the biggest thing is they do not want to start an argument and they do not want to start a crazy discussion about it. They want you to listen and they want you to truly accept what is going on and then kind of see where we can go from there. You could tell Jarvis was emotional when he spoke with the team yesterday. He wanted change, and he wanted to be part of it and really try and help the movement.”

 

On if there was something that Stefanski, Landry or anyone else said in the team meeting on Monday that he really took to heart about what he could do to help:

“I think the main thing is I think people in general have predetermined thoughts about certain situations. If you go on Twitter today, just in general, you see arguments under every post and every comment, and a lot of the times, you are not changing people’s opinion on that. It is like the kid in class that raises his hand when the teacher is speaking, does not listen to what the teacher is saying and then asks a question that you already went over. We are all ready to talk and all ready to give our opinion on things, when in reality, we just need to listen at some point. I think that is a tough thing for people to do because people want to be helpful and people want to contribute to the conversation, but right now, a lot of times, it is what can we do to listen? Again, no one has the complete answer or there would be no racism in our country, if someone had the answer to it. It has been here for hundreds of years, and we have to find a way to get rid of it. Right now, I think we are in a listening stage in truly trying to understand where our brothers are coming from, and then from that stage, if we make a group decision or a thing to kind of move our next step, then that is where we will go from there. Right now, I think it is just listening and truly understanding the pain that some of our teammates have been through.”

 

On having another new offensive line coach with Bill Callahan and balancing and eliminating information from pervious coaches:

“It is has been quite a few. I have been around the block with O line coaches. I truly think so far Coach (Bill) Callahan, I have not been hands on with him, but from our Zoom meetings and our conference calls in that sense, he truly understands how to play in the NFL and you look at his pedigree of guys that he has coached. The great part about being with a lot of O line coaches is that you take different details from each of their abilities to coach. If one coach was teaching me something and that works for me, I can still use that. Most NFL coaches have an understanding that guys are kind of where they are at athletically or skill-wise and the talents they have already accumulated over their careers, and then he is just going to help hone those different things. I don’t think it is really necessarily forgetting things that have been taught in the past but just trying to understand what Coach Callahan wants and implementing a few of those tools into my tool belt.”

 

On what he knew about T Jedrick Wills Jr. prior to the draft, his impression of Wills so far and how they can develop chemistry virtually:

“I did not know too much. The big four tackles everybody had been talking about were kind of on my radar. I had seen them and reached out to my agent to just get his opinion on each of the guys. Once we drafted him, I dug a little bit deeper into the research. Just from everything I have heard, he is just a hard-working guy that loves to play the game of football and he is going to try to do everything possible to put us in the best position to win. That is really all you can ask from a rookie. If he is going to come in, listen, be coachable and work hard, that is what you can ask from Day 1. We have had these Zoom conference calls with him, and so far, he has been in tune to those. You do not get as much interaction or on-field interaction as you would in a normal offseason, but from those, he has been dialed in. Everything I have done in texting him and talking to him, he seems like he is ready to work. That is really all you can ask in that and that is all you can learn. Once we get under the same roof and we can practice together, then we will learn a lot more, but right now, it has been a true positive.”

 

On if he gathered info about Callahan from past players and some past players saying he is a physically-demanding coach for offensive linemen:

“I think I found out about him when I was at the Pro Bowl, actually, which worked out because I talked to (Cowboys C) Travis Frederick, I talked to (Chiefs C) Austin Reiter, who was a guy that got coached by him when he was younger and just tried to reach out to as many guys as I possibly could to really see what this guy is all about because you hear good things about him – I talked to him at the combine – and all of them loved him. They loved him. They did say that hard work is part of it, but I think that is the bare minimum. You come to the NFL, and you are ready to work hard. I think he does have a lot of drills and I think he has a lot of knowledge of the game, but all of those things are working to make you a better player. I think he also understands older guys that are in Year 9, 10, 11 or 12 can’t quite do as much as some of the younger guys out on the field, and I think he has an understanding of that. He has also been a head coach a few times so he understands where that is coming from. All of the things I have heard is he is going to work with you and he is going to put you in the best position to be successful, and that is all you can ask. We are in the NFL, we are here to work and that is kind of the main thing. If you are not ready to work and if you are not ready to put in that time and the demand on your body, then you are not in the right sport. From that perspective, I think we are all ready to attack it, and I think he will understand if we need some time or one day or two days that we need to pull back a little bit. I think we are excited and ready to get to work with him.”

 

On how productive the virtual offseason has been and how much more crucial it makes training camp to accomplishing goals:

“It has been different, for sure. I do think the Zoom meetings have been successful for us. We have the whole offense’s base installed at least, and there is an understanding of things. That might be easier for guys who have been in the league for going on seven years now because I have been in a few offenses and I kind of understand how to install it. From that perspective, I get it. Then, working out on your own, it is kind of a check list of who is really pushing themselves and who is not. It is going to be interesting when we come together for training camp, if that is the next step, of how are we going to establish on the field. You can understand from a book and paper perspective, but once you get on the field and bullets start flying and you are ready to roll so from that perspective, it will be interesting to see. It might take a couple weeks to get up to speed in that sense, but if you get your six weeks of training camp, I think you are going to have plenty of time to get the plays in and an understanding of the offense. I know we have a good foundation set, and we still have a few more weeks of this offseason program to keep building on that.”

 

On how concerned he is about conditions in place related to COVID-19 when the team returns and if he believes the season will start on time:

“As far as [starting] on time, I am not sure. I have not been in those discussions with the owners and the players association and things of that nature so I am not sure about on time. I know they are trying to get started, and I think if other leagues do get started up, that would probably be a good sign for football to start on time. For the coronavirus, obviously, it is a real threat. People are dying from that and people are getting sick, not usually in the demographic of football-aged players, but again, it is the spread. You never want to see your grandparents, friends, older people or people with compromised immune systems getting this so how are you going to be able to control the spread of it? Obviously, I do not think we want any of the players to have to be away from their families and stuff during this time. You want to be together. My wife and I have discussed that there are risks going in and being around the guys, but I think they are working hard to try to limit those risks, limit our time in the building, limit our time around each other during meal time and all of those things of us gathering together as much as possible, and a lot of testing and stuff of that nature. Personally, you never want to be like, ‘Oh, I am going to take this risk to play,’ but we do take a risk playing football, as well. There is give and take on each topic, and it is something they are still working through. I think that is why there is no definite answer of when we are going to be back because there are so many different checkmarks on the list to go off before we make definite decisions.”

 

On if he will comfortable enough to return when the NFL and NFLPA finalize safety rules and protocols for teams to be in facilities:

“Yeah, I think if the NFLPA agrees on it and the owners agree on it, I think it will be a good set of rules and mandates, and we will see how it works. Again, you do not know where this is going to go in a month, in two months or in two weeks. We really do not know what is happening with it, but I think if the NFLPA agrees on it and the NFL agrees on it then I will be there and I will be ready to work.”

 

On T Jack Conklin:

“I got to talk to Jack right after he signed, and we have obviously been in the Zoom meetings together. He has been really good, just from watching him play and especially watching him this past year since they had (Titans RB) Derrick Henry running behind him. He has been in a zone system before and he has been in a lot of that play-action system, which we are hoping to run this year. He is built for it. He is tough. He is strong. He can move well. All of those things have been good. I know he is excited to actually get to Cleveland and get to work, but I know he is putting in the work at home right now with his family. I think he is a great addition. Anytime you can add a piece – he has been an All-Pro in his career and he is one of the better right tackles in the game – to an offensive line, you are going to help the team, hopefully. I think he is built for this offense, and I have enjoyed spending time with him on Zooms and through texts and conversations. I am looking forward to getting to meet him in person.”

 

On if he believes NFL owners and players will continue to use their platforms this season to help raise awareness for social justice, similar to what the Browns did during the 2017 season:

“I hope players and owners use the platform to keep the dialogue open. I hope there is a way where [we can do that]. I think Dee and Jimmy Haslam have done a great job in the community. They have given back tons, they continue to give back and they are open to discussing things with players and want to know where their money should go. It has been an honor to be in that system with them. If we get back to regular football and we have a season this year, I think players are going to use their platform, which they should. People listen. Kids listen. I think you start with the younger generation and you teach them to love each other and have that compassion and empathy for other people, and I think that is where it grows in this country. I hope players, ownership and the NFL as a whole use the platform to really promote that love.”

 

On if there are similarities between Head Coach Kevin Stefanski’s offensive system and 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system, given they are often compared and he played with Shanahan as Browns offensive coordinator, and how the Browns new offense will benefit QB Baker Mayfield:

“I do see similarities. There are probably six or seven teams that run this outside zone system. I think Shanahan is probably the most entrenched in it. He runs it all the time. I think there are a lot of similarities to that system. You get the boots off of the runs. It is a marriage of the run and pass. We want to make the runs look just like the passes and the play actions just like the runs. It all kind of works itself together. I am excited to get back in it. I thought we had a good offense my rookie year. Obviously, we had some quarterback difficulties and things of that nature, but I think we showed that it can be a successful offense. Obviously, Shanahan has taken the Falcons and the 49ers to the Super Bowl with the offense. There is definitely a chance to do some things on offense that we are excited to do. Baker, I think he works in this offense great. He is going to be able to sell those runs and set up in the pocket. It is not just drop-back passing 50 times a game, which is benefit to the O line, too. If you can sell the run and play action, boot and run keepers off the run game, it is going to give Baker another second or two to have guys get open and run routes. I think you have seen that with the big shots that a team like the 49ers and a team like Minnesota took last year where they have these guys like (Vikings WRs Stefon) Diggs and (Adam) Thielen and (49ers TE) George Kittle, all these guys running down the field open because [defenses] are so worried about stopping the run. If you look at the stats from the last couple of years, Baker has actually been a really good roll-out quarterback and a quarterback that has been able to throw off of the run and stuff like that. I think this offense fits him really well. I am excited to get some reps and see him in it.”

 

# # #