Cleveland Browns standout offensive lineman Joel Bitonio was asked to make a difficult transition this offseason, and despite initial hesitancy he has taken it in stride, and thrived.
While we do know Bitonio questioned the decision to move him to left tackle, we do not know his initial thought processes about the move, and we don’t—or didn’t—really know why he felt that way.
Thanks to some excellent reporting by the Plain Dealer’s Dan Labbe, we have a better idea of the situation. Bitonio provided very intricate details into his mindset about the change, the differences in guard versus tackle, his matching up with edge rusher Myles Garrett in practice, and more.
“It’s a whole new world,” Bitonio told Labbe. “Going against Pittsburgh, I’m used to blocking Cam Heyward, (Stephon) Tuitt, (Javon) Hargrave, those guys inside and then, right away, it’s like I’ve got T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, there’s different animals of players I have to study.
”Then just from a whole perspective, the whole playbook’s different on the outside. I’m used to double teaming every play, I’m used to pulling, those types of things and now it’s like, oh, I’m the backside cut-off guy or I fan out on a defensive end.”
Bitonio highlighted pass sets as the biggest differing between the two positions, citing more tact and strategy involved in tackle whereas when playing guard everything happens faster.
On facing Garrett, Bitonio lauded the former No. 1 pick as on the verge of becoming one of the best pass rushers in the league this season, calling him a “beast,” and saying facing him in practice can be pretty humbling.
“[I]t’s a nice thing where practicing is harder than the games sometimes,” Bitonio added.
As far as Bitonio’s “fit” as a left tackle, we have all seen the scouting reports. Despite playing tackle in college, his pro projection pegged him as an interior offensive lineman because he doesn’t possess elite physical traits typical of the best tackles in the game.
But he doesn’t think that any kind of shortcomings he has physically will prevent him from succeeding, and he isn’t going to let them. He actually sees some positives in his build and guard experience that’ll help him be a successful left tackle.
“Yeah, I think the in the run game, me and (left guard Austin) Corbett have had some good double teams and some good movement in the run game and I also feel like when they come to bull rush me they’re not used to a stockier guy that’s kind of sitting on the bull rush -- not saying they can’t bull rush me, but I think I have built up a little bit more resilience to the bull rush out there, so I think they’re a little surprised when I get my hands on guys, like, oh man, this guy’s pretty heavy, this guy’s a little bit tougher to move,” Bitonio said, according to Labbe’s reporting.
Bitonio hasn’t aced his first regular season test yet, which he realizes is the true benchmark for his progress, but he has come a long way from hesitant to embracing the change. And he hasn’t been half bad at the position, either.
Any time you don’t hear a team’s left tackle being mentioned during games, there’s a good chance he’s taking care of business.
For more, be sure to check out the entire Q&A with Bitonio on Cleveland.com.