Joel Bitonio Spoke to the Media Today on COVID 12/14/21

On if there is any worry with the Browns that the number of COVID-19 positive test results could rise as the week progresses:

“I think there is some worry until we get a few days of test results. When you are only testing once a week, things can come up and they kind of spread, especially if you are not showing symptoms. There is definitely some worry, but we try to just take a day-at-a-time focus, and really try to focus on the gameplan and what we could get done today, and we will kind of see what happens tomorrow.”

On if there is some comfort that the Browns faced similar circumstances last season:

“It is obviously an unfortunate situation – you want to see your guys on the field – but we have been through it. We had multiple weeks last year where we could not fully practice and we lost some players, including the playoff game. We do have experience with it. I think the coaching staff and the players are ready to step up, really try and attack this week and control what we can control.”

On how the Browns OL looked in today’s walkthrough and how he feels about the players who will be stepping in this week:

“It is very unfortunate. We already lost (T) Jack (Conklin) this year, and Hubb (T Chris Hubbard) and (G) (Drew) Forbes earlier in the year. Then to lose two more starters in (G) Wyatt (Teller) and (T) Jed (Wills) is tough, but I do have faith in the guys who are going to have to step up. (Offensive line coach) Coach (Bill) Callahan, (assistant offensive line coach) Coach (Scott) Peters and (offensive quality control coach) Jon Decoster have done a good job of preparing these guys. I think most of these guys are going to have to start have playing experience. That is really important. They are focused. They are ready. That is why they are on the team. You keep 53 guys so you are going to have to play them, whether it is injuries or now we have to deal with this COVID situation. Those guys are going to be ready, and those guys are going to have the opportunity to play. We are going to pick each other up. I do not know how many guys we will have out there, but we will bring the guys who are able to play out and get ready to roll.”

On the mood among Browns players today:

“This morning, we were coming in to get like a normal Wednesday day in so guys were in there to rehab and lift, and they were kind of picking guys off one at a time so it was a little unfortunate. We kind of realized it was going to be more than one or two guys. Everybody got sent home so it was more of like, ‘Man, what is going to happen?’ Obviously, we are not excited that guys are testing positive for COVID so there was definitely some uneasiness, but once we kind of settled and see where we are, (Head) Coach (Kevin Stefanski) does a good job of telling us really focus on what we can control, and we have to try and prepare for this week. That is all we can do, and that is all we could do last year. It is really an unfortunate situation. You never expect the NFL to have this virus and these things so it is something new for everybody over the last couple of years, but we really just try to take it one day at a time and focus on what we can control.”

On the pressure Raiders DEs Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue have produced this year and the Browns expected to be without some members of the starting OL:

“It has been really impressive. I have played him at least once or maybe twice in my career – Crosby – and Yannick a few times. Both of those guys have always been good players. Crosby has always been a guy who plays until the whistle and plays very hard, but this year, he has really taken a step up, and he has become one of the more premier pass rushers in this league. It is not all sacks, but his pressures and his disruptiveness have been really good. Their interior guys, I think their front four is kind of the strength of their defense the way they get after the quarterback and make things happen. It is a challenge for us. There are good rushes every week, but it is a challenge for us with our O line a little bit down numbers. We are going to have to have a plan for these guys, but I have faith in our tackles, and if our guards get on them, they are going to do a good job, as well.”

On if Coach Stefanski or Browns players addressed the team at walkthrough about the COVID-19 situation:

“We were kind of in and out. There was not much time for guys to talk. We got in, we did our normal special teams walkthrough and then our offensive and defensive walkthrough. We got all of our plays in that we would normally get in on a Wednesday and kind of went over that. There was no rah-rah speech from the players. Coach just said – like I have probably said 12 times in this [interview] (laughter) – can control what we can control and really just focus on getting better and improving. No one outside of this building is going to feel sorry for us. We have to play the game. We are going to have guys out there ready to play, and that is our mission. If you have to spend some extra time or if you have to focus on some things, that is what you have to do this week. We have been there before, and I know we have the right man leading us through this.”

On if Callahan’s role becomes even more crucial in this type of situation:

“Yeah, but I think it is throughout the year, though. You are preparing these guys to play, but something comes up. If the guy has not been working and has not been preparing all season, it is hard the week of to be like, ‘Alright, you are ready to go.’ When you see reps that guys like (G) Blake (Hance), (G) Michael Dunn and (G Hjalte) Froholdt and what these guys have done in practice – and (T) Alex Taylor – and the work they put in in practice, after practice, in the weight room and in the meetings, you know they are prepared for this moment. This week hopefully they get some practice in so they can feel comfortable with the guys next to them, but I think it is a cumulative thing throughout the week. Obviously, there is some scheme that come into it and some solutions that you are going to want to have in the run game and in the pass game. I think it is a yearly thing, and I think there is a lot of credit to Coach Callahan and the work these guys have put in to get ready for this moment.”

On when he felt better after missing a game last season due to testing positive for COVID-19, given the team has three more games of the regular season after this week:

“I did not have very bad symptoms last year when I tested. I was a little tired. I lost taste and smell and maybe a little congestion, but I was not too bad. I felt fine when I played the Chiefs the next week but then obviously the season was over. I was not out of shape or out of breath for me personally. I know different guys and different positions have different outcomes, but for me, I did not feel too bad.”

On how T James Hudson III performed on Sunday against the Ravens:

“Overall it was very, very positive. He played really hard. He had a good energy about himself. There were some times that he was celebrating and doing some really good things. In the pass game, there were some really good signs. He was getting to his spot. There were a couple of little mental things here and there. In the run game, it is all about finishing your block and finishing those things, and it was not for a lack of effort. It was just body position and a couple of little things like that, but overall, a very positive start. Hopefully, it is something he can build on, continue to work and just get better every week.”

On if there have been discussions about players changing their behavior outside of the building to try and limit their exposure as positive results rise across the NFL and throughout the country:

“I do not think we have had a talk as a team or anything like that. I am sure the NFLPA and the NFL are probably trying to get something going to try and limit the exposure of people. I think on a person-to-person basis, you see these numbers going off and you probably want to try and take a few more precautious if you do not want to test positive, but sometimes you can’t control it. For us, the way we are testing right now, our testing cadence of once a week, like if a guy gets in the building, there is a chance the building might be the un-safest place for you at this time, just with the way they are testing and if a guy is in the building. There have not been talks as a team yet about any of those. We are in intensive protocols now. Coach Stefanski did mention to us today about let’s be safe out there and let’s make sure we are doing all of the right things and trying to make those right decisions when we are out and about.”

On what can he do as a leader to help Browns players prepare and keep their focus on this week’s game:

“We had virtual meetings today, and it was pretty much a normal Wednesday or Tuesday because we are on a short week. In terms of meetings and our focus of that, we reach out to each other. Obviously, the positive tests are going to be a big thing. Every morning, we are going to see who tests positive. It is something we have to figure out. We have to get ready to play. To a man, whatever that takes to get you ready to play, once you get out there on Saturday and the whole world is watching you, no one is going to care what you did on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, but what you did on those days is going to prepare you for the game. You discuss that with guys and you make sure we are focused in practice and focused in meetings, and I think guys to a man are going to be prepared for this game.”

On what makes Stefanski the right leader to guide the team through situations like this one:

“It is just who he is. He is the same guy – win, lose or indifferent. He set a standard and what the standard is, and that is what he lives up to. There is a standard of play for the Cleveland Browns if you are a starter, if you are backup, if you are off the practice squad or if you are some guy we picked up this week because we need an extra body. The Cleveland Browns set a standard in how we want to play the game, and that is what he holds himself to and his coaching staff. There are times where he lights into guys, and there is times where he gets emotional, but when it comes to our day-to-day routine, our schedule and preparing for games, it is the same – we are about that work and we are about that focus, and he does not make excuses for it. He stands up in front of the team and tells you how it is, what it is and what we are doing. He does not lie to us on that front, and that is really what we are about this week and what we are focused on. For him to kind of stand in front of the team and just tell them like, ‘No one cares. We have to go out there and play a football game and try to win a football game.’ You hear that, and that is the heartbeat of the team as the coach. You take that as leaders and pass it along to your position room, and you get to work.”

On the adversity of the COVID-19 situation last year helped galvanize the team in a unique way:

“It was one of those things where we were doing things last year and we were trying to play a sport when a lot of the world was shut down – traveling and other things. There was some kind of camaraderie in bringing us together and not really knowing who we were going to have every week and if someone was going to test positive. We were testing every day last year so there was always a chance for something to pop up every day of the week. It really brought us together in certain situations. It is one of those things that we are in it together. I think football is a galvanizing sport as it is. A lot of people use things as motivation – each guy is kind of different – but it is one of those things. We are going to be focused on task at hand, but hopefully, this can bring us tighter together.”

On if the uncertainty of who would be available each day last season presented mental challenges by the end of the year:

“Every morning testing, going in and doing virtual meetings, it definitely threw off your routine. It became kind of a new routine, but it definitely threw off your day-to-day routine, and you were kind of waiting for that text, that call or Twitter of Adam Schefter tweeting out that someone tested positive in the Browns building. There was a mental challenge to it. It is the National Football League, though. It is not supposed to be easy. There are things that happen, and you have to be mentally tough to play and thrive in this league. I think we have the right guys for the job. It is just something that you add to your daily routine and you really go from there.”

On the significance of this week’s game and the team’s mindset heading into it:

“We talked about it kind of since the bye week of this 1-0 mentality, and really all year, we are focused on trying to win our next game. This is a very important game. We are one game back in our division, tied with the Bengals and Pittsburgh is right there. The Raiders are one game back from us record wise. We are right there. Every game down the stretch is going to matter, especially for tiebreakers and playoff positioning. We are trying not to look at the big picture, but you know these games matter. Coach (Stefanski) was talking about going 1-0 in December last week, and now, we want to go 2-0. It is a huge game for us, and it is really important – it is the next game for us. The Raiders are a team that is fighting for the playoffs, just like us, so it is going to be a big one. I think no matter who is out there, we are going to be focused, ready to roll and trying to go 1-0 this week.”

Sponsored Content

Sponsored Content