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News & Notes: Joel Bitonio calls 100th regular season start 'an honor and a privilege'

Bitonio is poised to be one of just four Browns players to achieve 100 regular season starts with the team since the franchise returned to Cleveland in 1999

Joel Bitonio wouldn't change a thing about the setting he'll step into for his 100th career regular season start Sunday in Los Angeles.

He'll do it 24 miles from where he grew up in Long Beach, California, and play in front of "30 to 40" friends and family members who have been with Bitonio since his first years of football. He'll also do it with one of the best Browns offenses he's ever played with so far in his eight-year career. 

The other best part? He'll achieve the start with the only NFL team he's ever played for. Bitonio will become just the fourth Browns player since the franchise was brought back to Cleveland in 1999 to achieve 100 career starts in the regular season, joining Joe Thomas, Orpheus Roye and Alex Mack. 

All of those starts were hard-earned for Bitonio, who said with sincerity Thursday he's taken none of them for granted.

"Anytime you get to put on the helmet, it's an honor and a privilege to play this game," he said. "To be here for the 100th time and hopefully a bunch more is pretty dang cool."

Bitonio, who will turn 30 next Monday, said he feels as though he's at the top of his game despite the wear and tear most offensive linemen endure through each season. The numbers and accolades back Bitonio up — he's been nominated to the Pro Bowl in each of the last three seasons and has once again opened 2021 as one of the top-ranked offensive linemen in the NFL. 

His blocking contributions this season are a big reason why the Browns currently rank first in the league in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, rushing first downs and rushes of 10 or more yards. 

"I do feel good," he said. "I think any O-Lineman, if you ask them, there is always something that they want to improve every week and there is a play here or there. O-Line is tough because it's a consistency thing. Every game and every week, you want to try and be at your best. I do feel like I'm playing well, and I do feel like it's been a good start to the season."

Health wasn't on Bitonio's side for his second and third NFL seasons, both of which he ended on Injured Reserve. An ankle injury shut down his 2015 season after 10 games, while his 2016 season only lasted five games due to a Lisfranc injury in his left foot. 

Bitonio said he doubted at the time whether he'd have the durability to carve out a long NFL career. 

No one, though, is doubting that now — he hasn't missed a regular season start since then. 

"You're thinking in your head, 'Man, am I ever going to stay healthy?'" he said. "To me, it was not something that I was training wrong. It was something that was very unfortunate and an unlucky situation. A lot of times, injuries are like that – it's just unlucky plays."

The Browns have been lucky to have Bitonio in every start he's made since then. He's become one of the Browns' most important players and continues to build his resume as one of the franchise's all-time greatest offensive linemen. 

When he takes his first snap Sunday, he'll have another accolade to prove it.

"I feel like I'm in a good place," he said. "It really is a privilege and honor to play for as long as I have played and hope that I can continue to do that into the future. I feel really good."

Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Los Angeles Chargers

Beckham regaining stamina

After Odell Beckham Jr. made his season debut Week 3 against the Bears, he said he didn't feel as though he his usual full tank of endurance for the whole game.

That wasn't the case in Week 4. Beckham went from playing 52 snaps in his season debut to 62 last Sunday, and he said Thursday that he felt as though his legs were "back under him" for the entirety of the game.

"As the game went on, I started to feel more and more in shape," he said. "It's only the second game after a long time of being out, so I actually don't feel too bad."

Specialists prep for SoFi

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer offered a glimpse behind the pregame preparations Browns specialists take before kicking in a new stadium — indoors or outdoors.

The Browns have never visited SoFi Stadium before, and even though the $5 billion venue contains a glass roof and will have almost no wind in the stadium, the specialists will still get to the stadium early Sunday to acclimate to the environment and possible unique feel of the field surface.

"We all go on that first bus (from the hotel), so we're there three hours before the game," Priefer said. "You walk out there and you kind of check it out. The winds will not be much of a factor. We will go out there and kind of check out the stadium first and go from there.

"I think every place is a little bit different. Minnesota's (turf field) was kind of soft and squishy a little bit, much more so than our indoor facility. This one will be a little bit different, as well. I think you have to go out and kind of get a feel for that, as well."

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