G Joel Bitonio (6.3.24)

So, how’s your golf game? 
“Um, it’s all right. You know, I, uh, a little banged up at the end of the year so it took me a few months before I could actually get out there. But I played a little bit, you know, the last couple of months trying to play as much as I can. But, you know, it’s a short season for us.”
Joel, you talked a lot at the exit of last season about being unsatisfied the way your personal season turned out because of health issues. How do you feel right now in this year, do you feel rejuvenated? 
“Yeah, I feel really good right now. Um, you know, you don’t play football for a few months plus you get some treatments and some stuff taken care of, and the body starts to feel a lot better. So, right now I’m at a good space, physically and I’m upping up my running and conditioning and been lifting and stuff. So, I feel good right now, you know, and we got to a little bit of time before the season starts. So hopefully it just keeps improving.”
How much have you kind of changed your approach as you progress through your career in terms of how you handle your body and everything, during the offseason? 
“As a rookie, I thought if I took like two days off, I was like behind for the season, you know, so I was just constantly, like, ‘I’m back at it I got to start training’ and now there’s a fine line between wearing myself out before the season starts and making sure I’m in shape to play, though. So, it’s definitely a difference, having kids too you got time to hang out with them and stuff, take trips with them. But no, I think I figured it out well and I’ve been able to ramp myself up to really be at my best when, you know, the season is starting.”
What do you know about your new offensive line coach (Andy Dickerson)? 
“He’s good, you know, I think I told the story, he worked me out coming out of college at Nevada. He was with the (Los Angeles) Rams. We had lunch or dinner, we did some board work. So, I had a small relationship with him then obviously I’ve known him across the league of uh, you know, he’s been an assistant coach when (Austin) Corbett was with him. So, I talked to Corbett about him and then obviously Poe (Ethan Pocic) had him in Seattle (Seahawks). So it’s good. He has a good energy. He brings some passion to the field. Um, you know, it’s still, we’re still working through an offense, and I haven’t obviously been on the field with him yet, but so far it’s been good when I’ve been in the meetings and I’ve, uh kind of picked his brain on some things.”
Joel, what do you think about the NFLPA, whatever proposal or whatever it is at this point about getting rid of the off-season program and then starting whatever, it would be?
“Yeah, I don’t know the exact details, but I do think there is some science behind like a better ramp up period of, ‘Hey, as a young guy, I always thought like I have to be in great shape April 4th when I show up for OTAs in off season.’  And, and so you don’t really have a long break to get back into shape there. But now if you push it back, you kind of have this like four or five month off season where hey, you could take a month off, you can start slowly working into it and then get ready to go and then once you show up at the end of June or early July, then you have a three week period of not really training camp practices but like an offseason program where they can kind of ramp it up. So, I think body wise and, guys actually being able to train in the offseason, I think it’s probably the smartest move. I don’t know if people schedule wise and stuff are very used to certain things. So we’ll see how that goes. But, um, I think science like in a ramp up period and training in the off season all those things seem like it’s a smart move.”
Joel, do you think before you retire, you’ll be playing 18 game schedules?
“I hope not. No, I mean, I don’t know, I don’t know what the details on that are but, I know next [with] the CBA, I would think they would get 18 games by the next CBA, but I will not be playing by then. I mean, they have to collectively bargain it. So, I don’t know the details of those talks, or I don’t think the off-season program is worth an extra game if that’s what they’re talking about or things like that. I don’t have a seat at the table in those discussions. But yeah, I would hope we would get more than a couple of voluntary off-season programs switched.”
Joel, when they added the 17th game, were you surprised they didn’t add another bye week? Is that something you would have supported? 
“It’s hard because, like, in the middle of the season, I’m like, oh, I could love it, you know, like last year I was beat up. I was like, ‘I’d love an extra bye.’ But then you look at like a totality of the schedule and you’re like, ‘I don’t wanna play until mid-February and I don’t wanna, you know, all these extra things,’ but I think the more games you play, the more time you have to, to give guys off and I think there’s ways to work around it where maybe you have like a mini bye, not just after the Thursday game, but you play like a Sunday game and you’re not always going into that game, like you have a little bye week there, so you get an extra few days off there and that could be your second bye, you know, and it probably adds a week still, but it’s still at least taking care of the guys’ bodies. I think those quick turnarounds are at least now that I’m getting older is what’s the hardest thing for me.”
Joel, you’ve been through the coaching changes, you’ve been through coordinator changes with Ken Dorsey coming in now and working with Kevin (Stefanski) to revamp this offense a little bit, has anything changed for you? 
“There’s some different terminology and stuff. I think, uh, the identity of the offense is, is very similar, but I think there’s new wrinkles and, and new, like I said, terminology, like once you’ve been in the league for 10 years now, you’ve ran pretty much every offense imaginable and it’s now just like putting those plays into the system. So, there’s some new code words and I’m like, ‘wait, I think that was a different code word last year or that was a different play call.’ So, you just got to kind of rep that stuff. But I think in the passing game they’ve definitely evolved I don’t know the details of every route, but it seems like there’s some new wrinkles and some new things and some motions, you know, some just different things that might not if you read a play off the playbook sound different, but when you look at it, I think it’s going to add a little bit more totality to it.”
I know Shelby Harris was pretty vocal on social media about not being a fan of it. I mean, is this just one of those things where there’s going to be different opinions amongst players? 
“I think there is a difference. I haven’t really talked to many people besides JC (Tretter) who’s, I’m sure has his, you know, but I don’t know if the guys really truly know what the new proposal is. So, it’s hard to be like, you know, have a correct take right now, I would say. So we’ll see, I mean, once we get a more concrete idea of what’s happening, I think we can get a better understanding. I think it depends too with age, like if you’re a young guy, like you probably want four or five months off in a row,) but some young guys might not want four or five months. They’re like ‘I need to get back to work’ if you have kids. You know, I could see a different idea. So, there’s definitely gonna be some differing opinions, but I think we trust what’s, you know, best for our bodies and in preparing for a season.”
For four years part of the running game was constructed by Bill Callahan now that he’s gone, the emphasis on kind of a spread offense, are you concerned about losing the identity of the running game? 
“No, I do appreciate coach (Bill) Callahan and what he did for us. I think he’s a great O line coach, but I have faith in coach (Andy) Dickerson and Roy (Istvan), who we brought over from the Eagles. Coach Stefanski still -no matter what, I think he saw his roots in the run game and it might be a little bit different, like you said, a little more spread and a little bit. You know, different ways we attack it if we’re finishing the game running the ball. But I think we’re still gonna have an identity, you know, when you invest in the O line and we want to live up to being one of the better units in the league. I think there’s gonna be times where they’re still gonna be like, ‘hey, you know, you got Nick Chub back there, you got to get the O line, like let’s get a couple of yards here.'”
What is the vibe or the feeling in the building that you guys have Deshaun Watson coming back healthy and, and ready to roll this season?
“Yeah, it’s been a good vibe, you know, when I’ve been around the guys, everybody seems excited. He seems like he’s in a good mindset. You know, it’s never been an issue about his work ethic and the way he put some time in the classroom and stuff. So, I think, I think guys are excited. I think we saw flashes last year of, you know, the second half of Baltimore and other games and you look at our win-loss record when he’s our quarterback, they’re all good signs. So, I think it’s all, all the momentum is good, you got some new weapons for him to throw the ball to, so it’s an exciting time, and it’s always about expectations. You got to live up to them, but we’re happy to have him because that means we’re there and hopefully ready to compete.”
I remember when you were a wide-eyed rookie and I know you haven’t been on the field with him yet, but your impressions of (Zak) Zinter and maybe what he can do for you guys right out of the gate. 
“Yeah, I’ve been in the meeting room a little bit, I’ve talked to him a little bit. Obviously, he has a pedigree of coming from a prestigious university and played in some big-time games there. He seems like he’s just kind of being a good rookie, which is absorbing everything in the meeting room and  not doing anything too crazy. So from that perspective, I think it’s been good and he seems like he’s willing to learn. Once I get out on the field with them, we’ll be able to see a little bit more, but just from the makeup and the type of guy I’ve heard he is and what I’ve seen I think  it’s when you add to the room and it’s only gonna be positive.”
You know, going through the rebuild years ago the ladder of the goals kind of changed right? And for the longest time it was just get into the playoffs, right? For you guys as players coming off of that Wild Card game, had the expectations for what you feel you have the talent to achieve change?
“Yeah, I mean, I think you want to get a spot in the dance because if you have a chance, you know, then you have a chance to win. But I don’t think we’re satisfied with that, like you said, I think early in my career, I was like, ‘hey, let’s make the playoffs’ and now it’s like we gotta win some games in the playoffs. You gotta make some things happen, especially as you get older in your career, you don’t know how many years you have left of playing and, and now you feel like you’re squandering opportunities when you lose those games, but the expectations you know, you always want to try and win your division to start and then you kind of go from there. But yeah, losing in the first round or the Wild Card is, is not what we, how we want to end our season.”
So, there’s a lot of examples of all pro linemen playing well beyond 35. Do you feel your career ticking or where are you at length of career?
“I mean, I feel like I’ve definitely played more seasons than I have left, you know. But really, I’m truly taking it, one year, one game at a time, you never know. You know, Joe (Thomas) played 11 years. I’m going to be at 11 years now. So, it’s a blessing every time I get to keep playing football. It’s gonna dictate a lot of how my body feels and stuff and how we are as a team as well. But right now I feel good and I’m ready for this year and I’m, you know, hopefully like you said, I can bounce back physically and have a great year.”
Joel going back the off-season proposal. I’m not sure how much specifics you are able to talk about, but the ramp up are they kind of thinking along the lines of what you kind of what you guys already do but moving it, shifting where it is on the calendar?
“I think so. And I think it’s more of like a, like three days on one day off type of thing is what I heard. And so, yeah, you’re gonna be training, you’re gonna be running, you’re gonna be doing some position work, but I don’t think it’s gonna be like a training camp practice, like it’s still gonna be like half days and things of that nature where you’re just trying to get used to being in pads. I mean, not being in pads but being on a football field and moving like a football player.”
So, a wide receiver signed a contract today worth $35 million a year. Just wondering, you know, what comes to mind when you hear that number, and can you believe they’re going through the roof like that? 
“Yeah, it’s crazy. I think the NFL is as popular as ever and you can tell with these contracts and the way the salary caps move up. But I always say good for them man. I see these guards signing, you know, $20 million contracts and I’m like, I remember I signed my first, my second contract and it was 10 a year and that was like three guys did that and now in my career they’re up to 20 so it’s great for the guys. I mean, and the more other guys get paid than everybody else, everybody should be cheering for guys to get paid because it brings it up for everybody. So, it’s pretty surreal though, looking back like on what guys are making now and the receiver is truly flying up the market.”
You know, you talked about getting older and how your body feels coming off last year for you. Now, how much of it is about like managing reps, right? I mean, you’re not at OTA practice is it all about just kind of saving the best reps for when they’re necessary?
“Yeah, it’s tough because I actually enjoy like practicing and being out there and trying to work on my craft and I think that was part of it last year was, it was a fine, I couldn’t last year with like the way my body was reacting, but it’s like still working out, still getting the reps you can, but also taking the days when you need it to make sure you’re, you’re ready for Sunday and it’s a fine line, but I think we’re working through it and I think we have, you know, a pretty good plan.”
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