Cleveland Browns left guard Joel Bitonio has seen a lot - and lined up with a lot of players - during his eight years with the team.
Bitonio has blocked for 15 quarterbacks, starting with Brian Hoyer and running through Baker Mayfield; seen wide receivers from Andrew Hawkins through Jarvis Landry catch passes, and paved the way for running backs ranging from Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell to Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Oh, by the way, Bitonio has also pocketed four Pro Bowl selections along with a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2021
More often than not, Bitonio has been a key part of one of the league’s best offensive lines, beginning with his rookie season of 2014 when he lined up with left tackle Joe Thomas, center Alex Mack, right guard John Greco and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz; right up to this season when he will anchor a line featuring left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., new center Nick Harris, right guard Wyatt Teller and right tackle Jack Conklin, once he makes it back from the torn patellar tendon he suffered last season in Week 12.
Even with a few uncertainties - how will Harris play as the starter, can Wills rebound from a rough second year that saw him deal with injuries, and how good will Conklin be when he returns - the unit is still projected to be among the league’s best, according to Pro Football Focus.
The analytics site recently ranked every NFL team’s starting offensive line and the Browns check in at No. 2, firmly in the Tier 1: Minor or No Weaknesses category:
This line simply needs to stay healthy. Last season, tackles Jedrick Wills Jr. and Jack Conklin played only 763 and 361 snaps, respectively. No offensive line in the league can maintain high-level play with their tackles seeing such little action. The only question mark when fully healthy is Nick Harris, who has played only 211 snaps in his career while backing up current free agent J.C. Tretter.
Harris is not the only new face on offense, as the Browns also have a completely new quarterback room (in case you had not heard) that will add to the list of quarterbacks Bitonio has played with, and new wide receivers in Amari Cooper, acquired in an offseason trade from the Dallas Cowboys, and rookie David Bell.
That does not faze a veteran like Bitonio, who acknowledged on Wednesday that roster turnover is a way of life in the NFL, but that the Browns are doing a good job so far of building team unity (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“The NFL is such a turnover league. In good years, you are still losing like 20 percent of your roster. You bring in a new quarterback, you bring in a new receiver and you bring in a bunch of new guys. There are going to be times that you want to get to know those guys so I think that was the main emphasis. Even some of the guys – the Bahamas trip and things like that – there are times outside of the facility where guys are getting together and being a part of the team.”
The names around Bitonio have certainly changed since he arrived with the Browns in 2014, but one thing that has not is the level of play of the offensive line.
And with some good health this fall, Bitonio and the rest of his offensive linemates may be able to continue that trend for another season.