Joel Bitonio has been no stranger to change since he was drafted by the Browns in 2014.
Since his second-round selection seven years ago, Bitonio, a left guard, has played under five head coaches, five offensive coordinators and a new offensive line coach almost every season. On the field, he's blocked alongside a handful of left tackles and even endured a brief switch to the position during the 2018 preseason.
Bitonio faces more change next season. Jedrick Wills Jr., the 2020 first-round pick from Alabama, will be at left tackle. Bill Callahan, who has over four decades of offensive line coach experience, will be Bitonio's next position coach.
"It has been quite a few. I've been around the block with a lot of O-line coaches," Bitonio said Tuesday in a Zoom call with local reporters. He was referring to Callahan, but Bitonio's been around the block with many other Browns coaches, too. This season will also be his first with Alex Van Pelt as offensive coordinator and Kevin Stefanski as head coach.
The change has never slowed Bitonio's play on the field — he's been a Pro Bowler for the last two seasons — and he's never lacked optimism in his seven years in Cleveland, the longest tenure of any Browns player.
The Browns have selected Jedrick Wills Jr. in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Bitonio, of course, is optimistic for this year, too. With Wills, the Browns have a promising player who dominated at right tackle in college and has major potential as a left tackle in the NFL. On-field reps will be important for Wills' development as he attempts to make the transition, but they'll also be crucial for the chemistry between Wills and Bitonio, which they've been building through text messages and video meetings as the Browns await their return to Berea.
"He's just a hard-working guy that loves to play the game of football and he is going to try to do everything possible to put us in the best position to win," Bitonio said. "That's really all you can ask from a rookie. We have had these Zoom conference calls with him, and so far, he's been in tune to those. You do not get as much interaction or on-field interaction as you would in a normal offseason, but from those, he's been dialed in."
With Callahan, the Browns have a coach who has seen plenty of success in breeding offensive linemen to new positions. His tutelage will be crucial for Wills' development, but for Bitonio, a new offensive line coach won't always carry as much impact on individual performance.
Bitonio's reasoning is simple: A good offensive lineman will have the skills to play under anyone. It's rare for an offensive line coach to spend several years with the same team, and a new coach might only be able to give a lineman a few tweaks and technique nuggets to sharpen their game.
That's what Bitonio expects to gain from Callahan.
"He truly understands how to play in the NFL," Bitonio said. "The great part about being with a lot of O-line coaches is that you take different details from each of their abilities to coach. I don't think it is really necessarily forgetting things that have been taught in the past but just trying to understand what Coach Callahan wants and implementing a few of those tools into my tool belt."
For Bitonio, the tool belt has been full for quite some time now.
The shifting around him hasn't changed that. Now, he just wants to return to the field.
"If you're not ready to work and if you're not ready to put in that time and the demand on your body, then you're not in the right sport," Bitonio said. "I think we're all ready to attack it."