Joel Bitonio has seen a lot in his five seasons with the Browns, but this week was a new one.
The veteran offensive lineman has played for a couple of different coaches, general managers and offensive coordinators since he was drafted in 2014. He’s just never said goodbye to more than one in a single week during the season.
That’s what Bitonio and the rest of the Browns roster has endured as they prepare for Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. One of the team’s captains, Bitonio has been central in the team rallying together during a spirited week of practice.
ClevelandBrowns.com caught up with Bitonio after Friday’s practice.
CB.com: Kind of a crazy week, huh?
Bitonio: It’s been crazy, like you said. You lose a head coach, you lose a OC in a week, it’s obviously going to be different. Freddie Kitchens and Gregg (Williams) have done a good job this week of keeping our energy up. I think practice has been exciting, a little bit more competitive. We’re trying to bring some energy to carry over to the game. We know we have a tough opponent. I think everybody is prepared and ready to go. It’s going to be a fun one.
CB.com: What’s the toughest part of this transition from a player’s perspective?
Bitonio: Not that our schedule is too different but Gregg has some different tendencies. Practices are a little different, meetings are a little bit different. The routine is just thrown off a little bit. Sometimes you need that. Sometimes it’s good to kick something different around. It’s just a new guys to run out there with. You’re not running out there with Coach (Hue) Jackson and Todd (Haley). It’s Freddie and Gregg.
CB.com: How have the guys around you responded?
Bitonio: It’s been good. I thought practices have been crisp. There’s been some energy, there’s been some competitiveness for sure. We’ve added a couple of periods to compete and it’s been fun so far. Gregg has been around for a long time, so he’s seen a lot of different teams and a lot of different years; good years, bad years, different years. He’s put a lot of good ideas into our heads. I think we’re ready to go out there and attack and compete this weekend.
CB.com: Baker Mayfield mentioned it Wednesday that this change puts even more emphasis on player leadership. What does that mean from a captain’s perspective?
Bitonio: We just have to make sure we’re all on the same page. We know there’s eight games left in the season. It hasn’t been a great start but we’re not out of it in the sense we want to compete every week and try to win as many games as we can to end this season. It’s our job to stress that. As an O-line, it’s a pride thing. You go out there and you’re going to protect someone else, you’re going to make holes for someone else, you’re going to do your job the best you can. We’ve got to have pride in our job and that’s what we’re going to go out and do and try and compete and keep the team together. I think so far this week, we’ve been together. It will show as the season goes on. So far it’s been a good start in that aspect.
CB.com: Two of the past three weeks haven’t been great, but you guys have been close in most of your other games. Is that what convinces you that this can be turned around?
Bitonio: We’ve had a couple of rough outings but besides that everything has been within a touchdown or a field goal to end the game. There’s a play here or there where we say, ‘we could have had that one, we could have had that one.’ We don’t want to lose anymore games like that where it’s like, ‘Hey man, we were one play away.’ We should say, ‘Let’s not be any plays away. Let’s not put it in the hands of the refs. Let’s go out there and do our jobs right the first time and that way we don’t have to come back from 18 down, go to overtime and lose in overtime.’ We can win it outright and be out there and just do something better each week to improve the team.
CB.com: Is Gregg Williams the head coach any different than Gregg Williams the defensive coordinator you’ve gotten to know over the past two years?
Bitonio: Honestly, their room is right next to the O-line room, so I hear him yelling at the defense a lot. I thought our meetings would be a lot more aggressive but he’s kind of calmed down as the team leader in the team meetings. He still has that fire and energy at practice and he still yells. Our team meetings are a little but calmer than I expected because I hear him yelling all the time to the defense. It’s been good so far.
CB.com: How’s the transition been with Kitchens leading the offense?
Bitonio: He’s been good. He’s the running backs coach, so we get a lot of run game with him. We interact with him on a daily basis with blitz pick-ups and things like that where we’re already interacting with him. Now he’s in front of the team a little bit more. It’s been good. I think his confidence has grown all week. He’s excited to call some plays and excited to have his shot to run an offense. I think it’s new for him, for sure, but he’s done good and we’ve enjoyed having him as a coach. Seeing him take this next step, it’s been cool to see. Hopefully we can progress for him and do some good things out there for him.
CB.com: Looking ahead to this Chiefs matchup, it’s not exactly the easiest game with a new coach. What makes them as good as they’ve been?
Bitonio: They’re good everywhere. If you look at them from an offensive perspective, they’re unstoppable right now. They score points on a super high level. For us as an offense, we want to control the ball, take care of the ball. Never give them an easy drive. Make them go the length of the field. Try to put up as many points as we can. Can we keep up with these guys is the thing. I know our defense is going to have a great plan and give us some opportunities. They have players up front on defense, too. They’ve got Dee Ford and Chris Jones who are two playmakers right now. Justin Houston, if he plays, is going to be a stud and they’ve got some linebackers that fly around as well. It’s not an easy matchup by far but I think we have a good game plan on both sides of the ball. We’re going to try to keep up with them. They score a lot of points and we’re going to try to be right there with them.
CB.com: I know you want to dominate time of possession every time you go out there but how much is that stressed in the game plan going against such a high-powered offense?
Bitonio: I don’t know if it changes the game plan, but I think there’s a little bit more stress on, say, third-and-4, we’ve got to get this first down. We’ve got to continue this drive. We can’t go three-and-out, we can’t have little things like a turnover in the red zone. They’re already good enough on offense. We don’t want to give them another chance. I think things are stressed differently. You don’t throw out your whole game plan and go, ‘All right, let’s just run the ball and take the clock out.’ Just take care of the ball, convert third downs and hopefully do a little bit better on first downs so we’re not in those third-and-longs.