Surrounded by some of the most talented players in the NFL at this week's Pro Bowl, Joel Bitonio acknowledged Thursday "I've got my feelers out" as he learns more and more about his new head coach.
The veteran offensive lineman has liked what he's heard about Kevin Stefanski, most of which has matched what he gleaned during his one-on-one meeting with him last week, and he's especially enthralled by the kind of offense Stefanski could bring to Cleveland for 2020 and beyond.
"We talked for 10-15 minutes finding out about each other. We didn't go into the scheme or anything like that. We're going to figure that out as we go," Bitonio said Thursday during a phone interview from Orlando on "Cleveland Browns Daily."
"Just getting to know him, I think like everyone else who has met with him, I came away impressed … Like he said in the press conference, it's going to take work. That's what I think he's down for. He's putting together the staff, taking his time, finding the right guys. I think we're going to be ready to work when it comes to the offseason program."
Bitonio's ears perked up when Stefanski reiterated how important it will be to "marry" the run and the pass. That, combined with the zone blocking concepts Minnesota's offense utilized while Stefanski was coordinator, brought back pleasant memories of 2014 for Bitonio, who was a rookie on an offensive line that paved the way for a strong Cleveland ground attack.
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The Vikings ranked sixth in the NFL last season with 133.3 rushing yards per game and were one of the most effective and efficient play-action passing teams in the league. The Browns in 2014 were one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL before Pro Bowl center Alex Mack went down with a season-ending injury.
Bitonio said the concepts are simple, but the plays can wreak havoc on defenders who are fooled by the looks and variety of outcomes that can come from the same exact formation they saw on a previous play. To Bitonio, it's similar to the kind of offense that San Francisco -- coached by Kyle Shanahan, who was the Browns offensive coordinator in 2014 -- has ridden all the way to the Super Bowl.
"It's happening one after the other to mess with the defense's eyes," Bitonio said. "I think that's one of those things he's been known to do well from what guys have told you. He's not going to be one of those guys to (yell) at you everywhere. He's going to be 'this is what's expected, this is what I expect from you on the field and we're going to go do that.'
"You saw the Niners in the NFC Championship game. I don't know if we're ever going to pass the ball eight times in a game like they did, but when you're running the ball so well and you take your shots in play-action, it all sort of works out."
As Stefanski has stressed, getting the Browns offense -- and team as a whole -- back on track after a disappointing season will take plenty of hard work. It starts in April with an offseason program that will feature a lot of the same faces player-wise and a lot of new faces on the coaching staff.
The first interaction between one of the longest-tenured Browns and the newest Browns head coach is already in the books. Many more will follow before Cleveland's players can even start digesting a new set of X's and O's.
"When you talk to him one on one, he seems very invested and I think that's pretty cool in a head coach when you have so much going on," Bitonio said. "I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to the opportunity. I think his plan is a good plan and I think we're going to move in the right direction. But it's going to take work."
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