It wasn’t covered on this week’s edition of “Hard Knocks,” but Joel Bitonio’s transition to left tackle remains one of the largest storylines for the Browns as training camp turns into the preseason.
ClevelandBrowns.com sat down with Bitonio to get his thoughts on the move a little more than a week since it was made official.
CB.com: You’re one week removed from the big move. What’s the biggest thing that’s stood out about your transition?
Bitonio: There’s a lot more space out there. I’m not really in a phone booth as much anymore. I’m kind of kicking for some more depth and playing against more move guys out there. It’s been good so far. I’m trying to get my confidence up out there and work every day to improve a little bit.
CB.com: When you were a left tackle at Nevada, did you think this was something you could do in the NFL?
Bitonio: Training coming out I was training as a guard and a tackle just because you never know with some teams. There were some teams saying, ‘Oh, you can play tackle, left or right.’ And other teams said, ‘No, we think you’re an inside guy.’ I came and I trained like that. The second I got drafted here, we had two really good tackles, so I was like, ‘Well, I’m probably playing inside.’ We had Mitchell (Schwartz) and Joe Thomas. It was right away like, OK, you’re going to play guard. I was like, ‘All right, I’ll just focus on that now.’
CB.com: Walk me through the process of how you found out about the position switch.
Bitonio: I got a phone call on my off day. (Offensive line coach) Bob Wylie was like, ‘Hey, you’re going to play left tackle tomorrow.’ I was like, ‘OK…’ Then Hue (Jackson) called me a little bit later that day and was like, ‘We think you give us the best shot, best five guys on the field right now and you’re going to do it.’ Ever since then I’ve been a left tackle.
CB.com: What’s it been like watching film of yourself since the switch?
Bitonio: It’s a little different. Sometimes I feel like I look like a guard still playing tackle, but that might just be my mindset. Going against Myles (Garrett) doesn’t help because I’ve got to speed everything up because he’s a fast, athletic guy. I’m trying to get my kicks down and my stance corrected, things like that. It’s different. I think I’m getting used to it. The first few days, breaking the huddle I felt like I was still playing guard and I’d try to line up next to (center) JC Tretter and I’m like, ‘Oh, I need another 2 yards there.’ It’s getting there. I’m on Day 5 or 6 of practice and I’m improving every day and kind of working for that. It’s been good.
CB.com: Joe Thomas has been in town lately. What’s he had to say?
Bitonio: He’s given me some little pointers. I know he’s post-football now, so he’s not around all the time. He gives me some little pointers, how he uses his hands as a tackle, how he sets on things. It’s things of that nature where as a guard you’re not really thinking so much about those. He’s been a big help and he told me if I ever need to sit down with him, he’s all for it. He’s always been a great resource, one of the best ever to play. I may not be able to do some of the things he could do out there, but he could at least give me the mindset that I need to be able to play out there.
CB.com: What’s the Myles Garrett experience been like?
Bitonio: He’s a stud, man. He can move, he’s pretty strong. I think he just moves at a different gear than everyone else on the field. That’s no offense to any of our guys out there who are working, but he just moves a little bit quicker. He has a little bit more of an array of tools he can use. I didn’t like seeing him at guard so I definitely don’t like seeing him at tackle every day, but we’re really working together and pushing each other to try to be the best we can be.
CB.com: Because of this switch, is there a different feeling you carry into this preseason opener than you did in previous ones?
Bitonio: Yeah, I would say there’s not nerves, but a little more excitement. I haven’t played left tackle (in a game) yet. Usually it’s going there like, ‘All right, we’re playing football again. We’re hitting the pads. We’re playing some guard against some double-teams, get some pass protection.’ Now it’s, ‘All right, this is a new thing. I haven’t done this for a while. We’re going against some NFL guys and it counts.’ If I miss a block or something, the quarterback can feel it. I got to go out there and be my best and hope I get some confidence built in the next two or three games.
CB.com: Your move was one of two significant moves on the offense in the last week, the other being the trade of WR Corey Coleman. Does that show an extra level of urgency to you about the team’s focus on winning?
Bitonio: (Offensive coordinator Todd Haley) has really stressed to us he wants guys that are going to go out there and do the right thing and push themselves and play for the team. He wants to put the best 11 guys out there. We’ve kind of seen that with the shake-up of the offensive line and trading Corey. He’s seen some good things from some of the young receivers who have come out here and put some good stuff on film and really worked to try and be the best. It’s not just running routes; it’s blocking the front side or back side of runs for receivers, making sure you’re running your route right so other guys stay open. There’s a lot that goes into playing the receiver game and he wants to put the best guys out there. Todd just wants a group of maulers that are out there and will fight for him on every down we get. I think we’re on our way. It’s going to take a few days to understand that but we’re moving in the right direction.
CB.com: How’s Austin Corbett handling the move to left guard?
Bitonio: Good. I think he’s doing a good job. It’s really cool playing next to him. He’s a smart guy, he’s going to know what he’s doing. We’re just trying to work to get our footwork together and get a little Nevada groove on that left side.
CB.com: What’s the ideal scenario for a first-team offense in a first preseason game?
Bitonio: I think we want to score touchdowns, obviously. We want to get a good drive going. We don’t want to have penalties, we don’t want to have turnovers. We want to eliminate the mental mistakes. Just things that show we’re moving in the right direction.