CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Joel Bitonio has yet to return to practice on a full-time basis following Lisfranc surgery last October, but all things are trending upward for the fourth-year left guard.
Bitonio has been able to steadily increase his workload, and physically, is handling well the challenge of returning from a second straight injury-shortened season.
“I am feeling really good, actually,” Bitonio said. “They let me run around a little bit and just be out there and warm up and go through individual and sweat a little bit with the team and stuff like that. It was awesome to be out there. I felt really good and strong. We are getting there.”
Although Bitonio has been unable to participate in practice because of the recovery from surgery, he has seen a “really competitive” offseason program, which he credits to the coaching staff, particularly head coach Hue Jackson and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
“I think just the two coaches kind of battling brings the energy to practice, and the players are trying to earn respect of the coaches on defense,” Bitonio said. “We have a lot of new coaches, so I think that always cranks up the competition.
“It is good, man. I have been a little jealous. I have been like, ‘Man, let me get out there. Let me run just a couple plays.’ It has been good. I am excited about what we are seeing and putting together another good practice and kind of see where we are at.”
During the 2016 season, the Browns surrendered 66 sacks for 309 lost yards, and each of their top three starters suffered through at least 18 sacks in limited play behind an offensive line that lost two starters, Bitonio and John Greco, to Lisfranc injuries.
However, during the offseason, the Browns made Kevin Zeitler the highest-paid guard in the National Football League and added center JC Tretter, along with reaching an extension with Bitonio. All of those deals were signed on the first day of the new league year back in March.
“Last year, we obviously weren’t good enough on the offensive line as a whole,” Bitonio said. “It was just kind of a collection of things, but if we can come together and produce the way we want to produce, I think it could lead to the ability to run the ball and take shots when you need to.”
In Bitonio’s opinion, having a productive offensive line will allow the Browns to become multi-dimensional on offense, something they struggled with during the 2016 season.
“If you have the ability to run the ball, it just opens up the whole offense, and I think that is our goal from the start, to be able to run the ball, and then, when we need to, take our shots and convert on third down,” Bitonio said. “It really does, the offense starts up front.
“If you have time to throw the ball, people are going to get open. You can’t cover guys for more than three seconds in this league. It is hard. If we can come together and really be the physical unit we can (be), I think it will really open up the offense.”