Joel Bitonio is just 24 years old, but he's already something of a leader on the Browns' offensive line. The left guard was named to NFL.com's All-Under-25 team last month and is expected to play a key role on Cleveland's offense under first-year coach Hue Jackson.
So when Bitonio offered offensive lineman Cameron Erving a vote of confidence earlier this week, it seemed to mean that much more.
"I think that is one thing is that he is a competitive kid and he wants to come in here and prove that he was a first-round draft pick for a reason," Bitonio said Wednesday in the team's first press conference since starting offseason workouts. "I think he set his mind this offseason to come and make those changes and really try and fight and prove himself this year."
Erving, the former Florida State offensive lineman and 2015 first-round draft pick who started four games last year, could be one of several Browns players who see their roles increase next season after experiencing some ups and downs as a rookie.
Following the departures of center Alex Mack and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, Erving is poised to compete for a starting role on an offensive line that includes Bitonio, Pro Bowler Joe Thomas and right guard John Greco.
Bitonio said Erving seems "as strong as ever" and was impressed with his conditioning.
"I didn't really work out with him too much last year, but he seems like he is strong. He's running well," he said. "We were doing a lot of like competition running today, and me and him were together on that. I was impressed with him. I felt like we were pushing each other, and he has been doing a really good job in that sense."
Erving, who spoke with ClevelandBrowns.com last week while hosting the team's Breakfast with the Browns event, said he's worked hard this offseason. "I prepare as I prepare all the time," he said, "I prepare as I'm going to be a starter at any point in time."
Such a frame of mind could serve Erving, who played tackle and some center in college, well this spring. But he'll let the coaching staff figure out where he best fits on the offensive line.
"It's just all about getting reps, I only played five games of center in college but I did feel comfortable when I played," he said, "so we'll just see how it goes and we'll see how everything plays out."
When asked about Erving's development, Jackson said "I think he is excited about working. I think he is committed to what he needs to do to continue to get better."
"I think he is working at it every single day," he continued. "I have been fairly impressed with all of our guys for three days, but it has just been three days. We have a long time to go, but I think that guys understand what the process is each and every day, and I think they are getting the idea of what it is going to take to get there."