Left guard Joel Bitonio held an informal question-and-answer session with members of the media Thursday. He touched on this week’s opponent, the Indianapolis Colts, head coach Kevin Stefanski, and how the offensive line is different this year.
Q: There are no silver linings when a guy like Nick Chubb goes down. But the fact that you guys did it so well for three-quarters without him, what kind of confidence does that give the offensive line?
Bitonio: No one replaces Nick Chubb. The guy’s a stud. That one hurt seeing him go down like that. But that’s the NFL. That stuff happens unfortunately. The other guys picked up. Kareem Hunt has proven that he is a number one back in this league. D’Ernest (Johnson) and Dontrell (Hilliard) both came in and had some good runs. It’s good to see guys get touches and make plays. These guys can do things in a real NFL game.
Q: As a leader on the team, is there lessons you have shared with the younger members?
Bitonio: Yeh. I think we’re in a good spot. I think most guys are not reading the outside noise right now. We’re happy with the start so far. We’ve won some games. We know we got to keep working and keep improving. Stefanski has done a good job keeping everybody consistent.
Q: DT DeForest Buckner of the Colts. What makes him so good, and is that a job for all three of you interior guys?
Bitonio: He lines up everywhere. He’s mainly the 3-technique in their base defense and will switch from the right to the leftside depending on the strength of the formation. It will definitely be me and Wyatt (Teller) for most of the time and J.C. (Tretter) will get his chances. He has long arms, he’s tall (6’-7”) – but he plays with great leverage and strength. Some of the tall guys get stood up easily, but he has great knee bend. Some of the best pass rushers in the league have hot and cold spots, but this guy plays hard every play.
Q: What is the next step for you guys to get where you want to be?
Bitonio: I think it’s consistency - and consistent winning. We haven’t had a winning season since I’ve been here. We’ve got to turn some of those games that we aren’t supposed to win and get a win. And obviously – make the playoffs. That’s so far in the future we try not to think about it and take one step at a time and this time it’s the Colts.
Q: When you look at this Colts’ defense, they are ranked Number 1 in a ton of categories. What have you seen from them that makes them so good?
Bitonio: They’re a good front - good defense overall. They have a good D-line and just brought Buckner from the 49ers in. He’s having a heck of a year. He makes plays. But everybody just plays hard. Linebackers know where they’re supposed to be and run to their gaps fast. They rally. And like our defense, they are creating turnovers. They lead the league in interceptions.
Q: What is the number one key for the Colts defense?
Bitonio: They just get to the ball. No matter where it is, they’re running, they’re playing hard and they are on a mission right now.
Q: Being 3-1 is a good start, but you are really preaching on focusing on this key matchup. How much did your rookie season teach you about that when there was also a winning start?
Bitonio: The NFL is such a week-to-week business. You see a team get blown out by someone they shouldn’t and then they win a game they shouldn’t. You have to really stay the course. You can’t get too high or too low. Stefanski has done a great job with that. He is the same guy every day. Things can change in a heartbeat - someone punches you in the mouth you have to rebound from that.
Q: The Browns’ offensive line ranks in the Top 5 of run blocking and pass blocking. What has it been like playing on this offensive line given some of the struggles you had last year?
Bitonio: It’s been good. Coach (Bill) Callahan has done a good job putting us in this position despite the shortened off-season. The guys came out and worked during training camp. It’s been fun. Jed (Wills, Jr.) has come in. He’s so quiet. Sometime I wonder if this guy knows what he’s doing and then after the game he’s perfect on assignments. Jack (Conklin) has been to the playoffs before and played in a lot of big games. J.C.’s been here forever. Wyatt is having a heck of a year as well. You see a good block on film and you think, okay, I want to get my good block in and feed off each other. We’re competitive as a group.
Q: You’ve seen him in practice, but what was it like to see Odell Beckham, Jr. in a game just showing all those skills?
Bitonio: You see everyday in practice just how special an athlete he is. He can throw the ball, he can run, he can play soccer. I know it was really special for him and Jarvis (Landry) to connect. We’ve been running that play since the start of training camp and were just waiting for that one to be called. Those reverses was really surreal. The second one I was trying to block the safety. Him making that guy miss was super impressive. Must be something about playing the Cowboys for him because he shines on the biggest stage.
Q: What are some of the things specifically that Coach Stefanski has done so far this season that has really impressed you the most in terms of pulling the team together, play calling, on-the-field/off-the-field?
Bitonio: From Day 1 of the off-season program, he said whoever handles the COVID situation best is going to have a leg up. Not that would guarantee to win games. We were not allowed to do as much outside the facility. He had us sharing our personal stories with each other so we could get to know each other better with the new players. It’s all about ball right now. As a coach, he is as consistent as they come. There’s no ups - there’s no downs. Coming out to work he is the same guy every day. As a play caller, he’s taken some risks. Our first 15 has been very O-line friendly and gets us in a rhythm on offense. He preaches the turnover ratio and not give teams free points.
Q: Offensive linemen love to run block and prefer it to pass blocking. Is it exciting to get out there and know that is what we are going to do and run the football?
Bitonio: It’s been fun to establish the run. 300 yards in the NFL doesn’t happen very often. As long as we can run the ball we’re not going to be in those third-and-8 situations so the defense can tee off and go all out on the pass rush. We can start to wear down guys leaning on guys, double-teaming guys - it tires them out. And towards the end of the game you have a chance to really open things up. But it’s definitely something we want to lean on and then take our shots when we get the chance over the top with our weapons.
Q: What’s next?
Bitonio: We’re just trying to grow each week. We want to win games and 3-1 is a great start. And this week it’s taking on the Colts and try to establish our gameplan as an offense and keep taking the ball away as a defense.