The Cleveland Browns are in their Organized Team Activities now, a ramp up to official Training Camp. As we learned with the Sean Lee injury and the Justin Gilbert scare, anything can happen and the most important thing during off-season is health. The Browns players are learning a new system under Mike Pettine and Kyle Shanahan on both sides of the ball. Shanahan’s systems in Washington and Houston have been both creative and flexible. This is also true for Pettine’s defensive system in New York and Buffalo. Because of that the off-season activities are almost more important from a mental perspective then a physical one.
Over the next few weeks we will hit on all of the Browns rookies, starting by going backwards with the players who were drafted then hitting on a few of the undrafted free agents the team has signed. We will look at their fit in the system, physical and mental maturity, competition for playing time and prediction of impact this season. We started first with 4th round pick Pierre Desir, cornerback out of Lindenwood, click here for that write up. Then we hit on Terrance West, 3rd round running back out of Towson, click here for that write up. Lastly we hit on the first “big school” guy in Christian Kirksey, 3rd round inside linebacker out of Iowa. Today we move up to the 2nd round with Joel Bitonio, 2nd round offensive lineman out of Nevada.
Joel Bitonio was an interesting pick for Browns fans as they came off an exciting first round, felt hit in the gut with the Josh Gordon news, and expected this pick to be one of the remaining star receivers they had heard so much about prior to the draft, including here at FoS. ESPN gives a great quick write up on the Bitonio pick:
WHAT HE BRINGS
Bitonio is as versatile as it gets, considering he can play any position along the offensive line, including left tackle. He has adequate arm length (33 7/8″) and the quick kick step to take away the edge, as well as the balance to mirror when defensive ends shoot or redirect inside. He’s a relentless run-blocker with enough athletic ability to cover up defenders in a zone scheme and enough power to generate push as a drive blocker when he keeps his pads down, though he’s inconsistent in this area. He also shows above-average awareness as a run-blocker and in pass protection.
HOW HE FITS
He has good versatility and can play both inside and outside. He could fill in at RT or line up at either guard position. While the Browns have shown both man- and zone-blocking schemes a year ago, we will likely see a lot of zone looks in the run game — and Bitonio has been a very effective zone blocker. The coaches want a little more physicality up front, especially inside, and he will give that to this offense. He actually may have the versatility to line up at all five OL positions.
Sounds like a perfect fit along the Browns line. My favorite line is that he is “a relentless run-blocker.” With the Browns ignoring the receiver need they need someone on the line who will be able to push the line forward. Too often last year the Browns were pushed off the ball with running backs and quarterbacks having to deal with backfield pressure quickly. Bitonio’s versatility will help long term but his power and quick feet at guard will fit quickly.
Bitonio is a high character guy, a theme so far in the Browns draft. The same ESPN write up described him this way:
Elite intangibles. Natural leader. Outstanding work ethic. Coaches rave about football character and intelligence.
The Browns can use that type of player. One that doesn’t take plays off, that understands football at a high level and leads in both word and deed. No concerns related to his maturity.
Bitonio is in a unique situation that he is moving positions for his first year, inside to guard, but is expected to start quickly. The Browns have a number of offensive linemen including Jason Pinkston, John Greco, Paul McQuistan and Garrett Gilkey. Bitonio is currently looking like the starting Left Guard which will create huge competition at the right guard spot which could bring out the best in any of the other players. The Browns should finally also have some depth at guard that they haven’t had in years past.
Unless Bitonio has a terrible season, and even that is hard to predict, his impact will be hard to judge. Offensive linemen can live in obscurity if they are doing well. With the new Zone Blocking Scheme coming in, if the Browns line is successful it will be given a lot of credit. Linemen, especially guards, can come in and dominate if put in the best place to succeed. Expect Shanahan to put Bitonio in good position to play well and have a large impact on the run dominate game plan. Overall Impact – Medium to Medium-High
If you are interested in watching film on players Draft Break Down does a great job of putting together pieces. For Bitonio they have a number of videos, which you can click here to see. Also below is one video of a game against Michigan in 2013:
What are your expectations for Bitonio this year?