LG Joel Bitonio (1.10.24)

How are you feeling? It looks like you were kind of limping a bit yesterday in the field house. 

“Oh, I might have been, but I’m feeling actually better than I have in a while. I had some time off. I’m able to work on a few things that have been bothering me. It’s still the middle of the season, but no, I’m feeling better. I think hopefully going to this game will feel as good as I felt in quite a while.”


So what did you think of the team meeting? Now that we know about it, it’s all out there. But what did you think of the message that was sent and what kind of did you take away from that? 

“Yeah, it was cool. You got to hear a lot of respected guys in the locker room, coaches, players discuss their experiences in the playoffs before and what it took their past teams to win a championship. And I think just a grounding thing, was like we talked about all year is going 1-0, focus on the fundamentals, understanding that there’s going to be big plays in the games. But you prepare for these moments. There’s time to take it in. But once you get between those lines, it’s eleven guys on the field at a time. You got to do your best every play to support the team. But it was really cool to hear from those guys. I think it brought a great energy to the room and then coach kind of finished it off with, all right, we’ve talked about it and now we have to focus everything on the Houston Texans. And I think Joe (Flacco) made a great point about we have nothing else. It’s the only thing on our schedule is the Houston Texas. We can’t think about the next 18 weeks or anything like that. We have to go 1-0 this week against Houston and then we can see what’s happening.”


Did it strike you at all out of character for Kevin (Stefanski) to allow you guys to go down that road?

No, he’s done some things like that in the past. I think he’s been very consistent this year and his whole career here, but I don’t think it was out of character.”


Remember in 2020, he did the same thing. He allowed you guys to start and he even started talking Super Bowl the minute that you made the tournament. Why do you feel like that’s okay? 

“I think that’s the first goal every year. Hey, I mean, the ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl. I think every team thinks they want to win a Super Bowl, but the first way to get there is to make the tournament, make the playoffs. And now our goal this week is going to 1-0, but the ultimate goal is always to hold up the trophy. So I think that’s just part of the bigger plan, and that’s something we’ve been focused on since day one, since he’s been here.”


Kevin’s (Stefanski), 1-0 message. He’s been here for four years. And I think this is really the first year where you guys talk like he does. And why do you think his messaging has resonated and really been, I guess, absorbed by this locker room? 

“I think coming as a coach and you have your message that you try to instill in the guys, and it takes time for that to get in. But once you start seeing results of what you’re saying, you talk about being resilient, you talk about being 1-0, you talk about focusing on the task at hand and playing with the guys that we have, but then you start winning games and results are still positive. I think that culture starts to build. They’re like, hey, we lost Nick Chubb already, like if someone else goes down, we know we can pick up that energy. We lost Deshaun (Watson), DTR (Dorian Thompson-Robinson) came in and won us a game. He goes down, we know Joe (Flacco) can come in and win this game. We have experience with it now. And so the words behind it have shown results. And I think the core guys together long enough, that culture is going to build.”


Joel, you guys struggled to run the ball last time in Houston. When you go back and watch on film, why do you think that was the case? And what gives you confidence that it’ll be different this time? 

“Yeah, I think anytime the run game is struggling, there’s usually a bust on the block or one or two plays here and there. I know we were taking shots. We were trying to throw the ball downfield, but they have a good defense. They’re pretty elite against the run all year. Last week was a little tough for them with Jonathan Taylor, but they’ve done a good job. But honestly, I think it comes down to execution for us and guys getting on blocks and staying on blocks.”


After all these years, what would it mean to you to win a championship? 

“Yeah, I think it’s everybody’s goal that plays this game. It’d be spectacular. But truthfully, we talked about it and now it’s so far out there. We got to beat Houston. We got to focus on that. We got to try and go 1-0 this week and see what happens over there. But that’s the ultimate goal for, I think, all the competitors that play in the NFL.”


Joel, in 2020, you missed the first game then you got a chance to play the Chiefs, obviously, but you know how long it took to even get to a point where you guys were in the playoffs and then everyone was talking about is he going to get to experience it and you did, but just how are you sort of personally compartmentalizing now, this sort of second stint where you don’t have to worry about any of that, you’re going to be out there starting?

“Yeah, I definitely don’t take it for granted because it’s been long enough where you don’t have a chance every year. You can think you’re built for the future and you have an injury or something and that kind of derails your season. So I’m so happy that we’re back and I’m not taking it for granted to have another opportunity. 2020 was awesome. It was great to watch the guys win, but obviously you want to be a part of it, too, and you want to be out there in these wins. And now we’re going to have a full stadium where it was a little bit less back in 2020.”


There’s so many elements of this (Joe) Flacco comeback story that are almost surreal. Is there anything that has impressed you most about what he’s been able to do here in such a short time? 

“He’s just calm and cool, man, no matter what. Honestly, his personality is very, I feel like, similar to coach (Kevin) Stefanski. They kind of roll the same way and stuff, so I feel like it’s been a big part, but he’s just been in the locker room, like personality wise and him and Dave (Njoku), him and Amari (Cooper), just the O line and him, it’s been pretty seamless transition and I think that’s just who he is. He isn’t trying to do anything different. It’s just, you know, I’ve played football for a while. I just want to go out there and have some fun and play and it’s worked out well.”


You’ve played in some loud environments. Saturday is going to be another one of those. What’s most important for you guys up front to deal with that crowd noise and make sure that you don’t have those false starts and pre snap penalties? 

“Yeah, we know it’s going to be loud. They got a good fan base down their home games. Young quarterbacks playing very good. So we know they’re going to be excited. We have to be elite on our operation on this, communicating on the huddle, preparing this week with crowd noise inside, making sure we’re all in the same snap count. But it just comes back to the reps in practice. Communicating, making sure, no matter what, you got snap count, and we’re good to go from there.”


How’s their defense change if (Will) Anderson and (Jonathan) Greenard play? 

“Yeah, they’re pretty good. I think their front four, they got talent everywhere. Their front fours are a strength and I mean, even (Derek) Barnett and (Jerry) Hughes have stepped up and played pretty good football for them as well. But those guys are two pretty elite athletes. I think I they lead the team in sacks with like twelve and seven or something like that. And we didn’t see Will last time, and he’s been kind of slowly building back up, but we know he’s elite traits and he’s powerful and condensed in the pocket and then they’ve made plays for each other. I think their interior guys are very disruptive, too, so it kind of just feeds off each other, but they play, it’s more weapons that we have to account for and they’re talented guys.”


So you talked about Joe (Flacco) being sort of that conform collective demeanor out on the field. Has he ever, to this point, stepped in the huddle and said something that just completely threw you for a loot that you knew, like he meant business. Like dropped an f bomb or something, anything. 

“Only at Wyatt (Teller). You guys know Wyatt. He likes to talk a little bit, so every once in a while we have to make sure he’s back in the huddle and Joe’s not afraid to let him know. In a colorful way.”


NFLPA All Pro, which is, I think, a new one. But does that mean something to you because your guys vote for it?

“Yeah, it’s a cool honor. Those are guys you compete against. I think it’s like left guards vote for left guards and d tackles. So, like the guys you truly compete against on a week-to-week basis, guys to watch this film, you know, I think they started last year and so it’s a cool new one. I think it’s a great way to get the players input because with the Pro Bowl, you get fans, players, coaches, the writers, the media, and I think it’s a different way to get guys opinions on who’s playing good football, it’s always cool to be recognized by the guys you go against.”


Any chance JC (Tretter) voted for you?

“I don’t think so. He’s pretty straight and narrow, those type of things.”

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