BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – Joe Bitonio wore the perfect shirt as he met with reporters Sunday.
It read: “Browns Are Tough.”
Not even Bitonio thought after undergoing Lisfranc surgery last October that he would be back in time for the start of camp, but there he was last Thursday ready to go.
“It was good to get out there and run around with the guys and play football actually,” Bitonio said smiling Sunday.
After months of arduous rehab Bitnio had every reason to smile.
“It was hard,” Bitonio said of the rehab process. “I was in a boot for 12 weeks or something like that. It was really a mental strain just as much as a physical strain. You couldn’t do as much as you wanted. The trainers did a good job of telling me, ‘Hey, it takes time. This first part you are not going to do too much, but once you get back, it is just about getting those movements back.’
“We really worked at it, and I am just thankful I’m back out there now.”
The original plan was for Bitonio to start camp late and ease his way back throughout August and early September with the hopes that he’d be able to face the Steelers on Sept. 10, but as he progressed this offseason it became apparent that he was ahead of schedule.
“When we were in OTAs, they were like, ‘We are going to let you do some individual stuff during minicamp,’ I had a feeling like, ‘Maybe I will get to camp and be ready for that first game,’ Bitonio said. “It is still a process and we are still getting there, but I’m excited to be back and actually playing football again.”
Offensive line coach Bob Wylie raved about Bitonio and the work he put in to be ready from day 1 of camp.
“He is a true professional. He has the passion and the heart for the game,” Wylie said. “Joel Bitonio is a guy that I would go into the foxhole with. I would take him to war. I would go with him because I can trust him.”
The Browns trust Bitonio too signing their 35th overall pick in the 2014 draft to a 5-year extension worth up to $51 million as part of their heavy investment this offseason up front that also included the additions of free agents JC Tretter to play center for 3 years and $16.75 million and Kevin Zeitler at right guard for 5 years and $60 million.
This offseason wasn’t the first time that Bitonio showed how tough he was either.
Bitnio suffered an ankle injury at Cincinnati on Nov. 5, 2015 but tried to play through it. He missed 2 games before returning and re-injuring it on Dec. 6 which forced the Browns to place him on injured reserve.
Now he’s being counted on to help anchor an improved line for Hue Jackson’s offense, which is expected to feature a strong run game with Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson.
“We want to run the ball. That is part of our IQ,” Bitonio said. “We have some big guys up front. We brought some new guys in. I think that is the goal of any team. A lot of people talk about running the ball, running the ball. We have to make that statement. We have to make him trust us to run the ball.
“If we are not getting 4 or 5 yards on a carry, then it is going to be hard for him to keep calling runs.”