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Joel Bitonio leading the way as Browns O-Line continues to grow

While the Browns say they're well aware of the work need to be done after a loss to the Buccaneers on Friday, they also remain confident and optimistic.

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That includes third-year left guard Joel Bitonio, who has embraced a leadership role on an offensive line still taking shape as Cleveland prepares for its fourth and final preseason game against the Bears on Thursday.

"I think the whole attitude of the team is much improved. The preseason hasn't gone win-and-loss the way we want it to, but we see signs of hope," said Bitonio, who has drawn rave reviews lately from the coaching staff and his teammates.

"It takes time to put your stamp on a team, but coach (Hue) Jackson has really done a good job of stressing the little details, the important things, the way we work as a team, the way we practice. There are just so many improvements in that aspect, and it seems like the team is a lot closer. We are ready to take the next step."

For Bitonio and the offensive line  — one that has welcomed two new starters in center Cameron Erving and right tackle Austin Pasztor — the next step is for the unit to work as one every time it steps out on the field.

"I think as an O-line, we are really starting to come together," Bitonio said. "Obviously, there are some plays that we want to take back last week, but I think going into Philly, we are going to have a good group that is ready to take on some good defenses."

Indeed, Friday night was full of highs and lows for the Browns offense.

Bitonio said his group wants to shore up its pass protection — though Jackson made it clear Saturday such a dynamic must be a team effort — but the Browns were effective in the run game. Running backs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson combined for 61 yards on 11 carries, and Cleveland hopes that kind of production continues to blossom in weeks to come.

"We felt actually pretty good in our run game. We didn't run the ball as much as we wanted to just because we were behind the sticks with penalties and unforced errors, but there were some really solid things in the run game," Bitonio said, adding, "Obviously we wish we could have done it some more and get some more yards, but still we are improving the little things.

The Browns take on the Buccaneers in Tampa for the third preseason game.

"We are chasing perfection at every block we make. There are definitely things to work on, but we saw life in the run game and saw things that if we stay on schedule, this could be a successful run game for us."

That, Jackson said, will be key for the Browns to have success on offense. Explosive plays — something Cleveland has executed well through the preseason — are important, but Jackson stressed that's only part of the bigger picture.

"I love the big plays but I feel like we can't be a team that just relies on big plays offensively. We need to sustain drives," he said Saturday.

"That gets back to running the football. (Crowell) had some really good runs in there at times, but it was nothing sustainable that we can kind of hang our hat on. We will continue to get better. We are going to have to run the ball better than we have and we understand that. We are going to have to throw the ball better than we have. At the same time, I did see some flashes of some things that I think we can build from."

And because of that, Bitonio said hope abounds in Berea.

"We want to win as soon as possible. There is hope around this team. There are guys that are working, guys that are doing everything possible to put the Cleveland Browns in the best spot we can," he said.

"I know this team goes out every week expecting to win, and we are doing everything on our part to do that."

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