Browns O-line still in limbo with Steelers coming up
BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Joel Bitonio doesn’t know if he’ll play left tackle or guard in Sunday’s opener.
“I just do what I’m told,” he said.
No one has told him anything.
Cleveland’s offensive line remains in limbo — and mysterious — just days ahead of a Week 1 matchup with the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Coach Hue Jackson, who last week said he may shift the left side again, refused to disclose any plans following Monday’s practice.
“Right now, it is the way that is has been,” said Jackson, who slid Bitonio from guard to tackle during training camp. “Nothing has changed in that way. We have a week. We do not play until Sunday. We are going to figure it out and put the best five guys out there.”
Jackson said he “has a pretty good idea” of what he wants to do, but he’s not ready to share his strategy publicly — or, it seems, with his players.
Bitonio laughed when asked if he’s still a left tackle.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “I think coach is going to come back Wednesday and give us a definite answer. I’m ready for both, though. Whatever they put me at, I’m ready to go and play some football finally.”
The Browns knew left tackle would be a major issue after 10-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas retired in March. The team gave former right tackle Shon Coleman and rookie Austin Corbett a crack at taking Thomas’ old spot before switching to Bitonio, who did well during three exhibition games at a position he hadn’t played since college.
Now, Bitonio might go back to guard and replace Corbett with undrafted rookie Desmond Harrison starting at tackle.
It’s hardly an ideal scenario to be so unsettled this close to the opener.
“I wouldn’t say it’s awkward,” Bitonio said. “I think it’s just trying to get the best five guys out there and it’s taking a little more time than we would have hoped.”
The 6-foot-6, 295-pound Harrison has emerged as an option in recent weeks following a solid camp. Harrison played at Texas before sitting out two seasons and transferring to West Georgia.
“He has improved,” Jackson said. “It gives you another option to look through to see who are the best five guys to put out there — him, (OL Gregg) Robinson. Robinson has improved. I have seen a lot of good things over the last week and a half. My job is to make sure that we put the best players out there, period. Whatever position it is, that is what we are supposed to do. In those situations, that is what we are going to do.”
Bitonio said Harrison is the team’s most athletic lineman.
“He can move, man,” Bitonio said. “He’s athletic. He has the length. He has the size. He’s the prototypical left tackle when you think of a left tackle. He’s like 6-6, long arms, can get back and set. He’s done some good things. I know he hasn’t played against the ones (starters) all the time but when he’s been out there he’s made some good plays. We’re just making sure he has the right mindset and understands what he’s doing every play.”
As he waits to see which position he’ll play, Bitonio took a friendly swipe at Thomas, one of his close friends.
Bitonio was asked what it says that an undrafted free agent could replace a future Hall of Famer.
“He’s a little overrated, huh?” Bitonio quipped.
NOTES: WR Josh Gordon returned to practice for the first time since minicamp in June, and appears on track to play in the opener. Gordon missed more than three weeks in camp to get counseling and treatment in Florida connected to his substance abuse problems. He tweaked a hamstring while conditioning and was held out last week. Jackson reiterated Gordon will not start, “but he is going to play.” Gordon was suspended for the 2015 and 2016 seasons and the first 11 games last year. He came back and caught 18 passes for 335 yards in five games. … TE Seth DeValve (quadriceps), S Damarious Randall (knee), rookie LB Genard Avery (hip) also returned to practice. DeValve missed the entire preseason.