BEREA — Left guard Joel Bitonio has a streak to uphold and teammates not to let down.
Bitonio tested his sore back in practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday. He was limited but hoped to take a step toward playing Sunday against the Cowboys in Texas.
“I’m going to get some stuff going in practice today,” he said on a Zoom call, adding he first felt the injury Sunday in the 34-20 win over Washington. “See how it feels when I’m done out there.
“It popped up during the game. Kinda early in the game, it just got a little unsettled there for me for a little bit. When your adrenaline’s going in the game and stuff like that, you just battle through that and you find a way to get through it, then you wake up Monday morning and you don’t feel very good.”
Bitonio is a key piece on a line that has cleared the way for Nick Chubb (292 rushing yards, four touchdowns) and Kareem Hunt (204 rushing yards, TD) and protected quarterback Baker Mayfield (four sacks in three games). Bitonio has played every snap since the start of 2016, his third season.
“You want to be out there for your teammates more than anything,” he said. “Whenever I missed a game early in my career I just felt like I was letting the guys down around me. As a player on this team, you want to be out there for your guys. We get paid to play this game and when you’re not playing you feel like you’re letting people down.
“That’s the goal every week. It’s important. I think we’re at 51 going on 52 games now me and JC (Tretter, center) have played together every snap. And it’s just one of those things that we just want to keep it going. We don’t know how long it’s going to go, we’re not going to have 10,000 snaps like Big Joe Thomas, but it’s just pride a thing. You want to go out there and play when you can.”
New coach Kevin Stefanski quickly learned how important Bitonio is to the team and locker room.
“He is extremely valuable to what we do,” Stefanski said. “Off the field, he is a leader of this football team. He does a great job. His teammates respect him. He is all about ball.
“It did not take long for me to turn the tape on and kind of know the type of player I was getting in Joel, but just the person, he is a class act all the way.”
Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (back) was added to the injury report and limited in practice. The Browns practice Friday for the final time before the game, so the level of his participation bears watching.
** Hunt (groin) was sidelined for the second straight day. He’s rushed 39 times and caught eight passes working in tandem with Chubb.
Chubb would become the workhorse without Hunt, with D’Ernest Johnson or Dontrell Hilliard spelling him.
“We have understudies, if you will, so guys have to be ready to fill those roles, and then we will adjust,” Stefanski said.
** Cornerback Denzel Ward (groin) returned in a limited capacity, and coordinator Joe Woods is hopeful he can play Sunday.
“If we can get him out there the next two days and he moves around pretty well, that will bode well for us,” Woods said before practice.
** Safety Ronnie Harrison (illness) was added to the injury list and didn’t practice. He wasn’t put on the COVID-19 list, meaning he didn’t have any positive tests and the illness is believed to be unrelated to the virus.
** Defensive end Adrian Clayborn (hip) and linebacker/special teamer Tae Davis (elbow) didn’t practice for the second straight day. Clayborn didn’t practice Wednesday and Thursday last week, was limited Friday and played against Washington.
** Right tackle Jack Conklin (elbow) was a full participant in practice after being limited Wednesday.
** For the Cowboys, left tackle Tyron Smith (neck) returned in a limited role. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (knee) again didn’t practice, and cornerback Trevon Diggs (shoulder/knee) was downgraded to limited.
Playing 100th straight game “means a lot” to Jarvis Landry, especially after offseason hip surgery
STEP IT UP
Linebacker Mack Wilson played six snaps Sunday in his return from a knee injury and was limited to the three-linebacker base defense. Woods expects that number to jump against the Cowboys.
“We have a plan for him in base and sub defense,” Woods said. “With those guys coming back, we really did not want to put too much on them … but we will definitely get Mack some more reps this week.”
Cornerback Kevin Johnson also was supposed to be eased back in his return from a lacerated liver but played 38 of 65 defensive snaps because Ward left the game. He’ll be needed in the slot against Dallas rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb, who has 16 catches for 230 yards.
“He had a little rust,” Woods said of Johnson. “He just has not played in a long time so getting back out there and just getting the feel for the speed of the game. He did some good things, but he will definitely make some improvements going into this week.”
RETURN TO SENDER
The Browns signed former Cowboys and Steelers receiver Ryan Switzer to the practice squad and he could be promoted to return kicks as soon as Sunday against the Cowboys.
“Ryan will certainly be in play either this week or next week,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “It just depends on how quickly we get him ready if we need him.”
Rookie receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, Hilliard and Johnson are the other options after returner JoJo Natson was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered Sunday.
“My heart breaks for him,” Priefer said. “My heart breaks for me and us and our special teams because he was just starting to hit his stride. That is going to hurt our football team because he has worked very, very hard to be the type of returner that we needed him to be, and obviously, his talent, his work ethic and his attitude were great.”
Switzer (5-foot-9, 183 pounds) is in his fourth season. He was waived by the Steelers during final roster cuts.
He has appeared in 41 career games with one start. He’s returned 67 punts for 537 yards (8.0 average) and a touchdown and 63 kickoffs for 1,373 yards (21.8). He has 50 catches for 321 yards and a touchdown.
Natson returned punts and kickoffs, but Priefer said the team could split the jobs if the same guy isn’t the best option for both. Peoples-Jones (6-2, 212) was a punt returner at the University of Michigan but has the size of a typical kickoff returner, so Priefer said he’s “valuable in either phase.”
Practice was moved inside and closed to media because of a storm. That should’ve helped the Browns prepare for the crowd noise at AT&T Stadium with approximately 20,000 fans expected, as Stefanski has noise pumped into practice.
“They had one game in that building already, and just being mindful of how loud it was,” he said.
** Priefer said they have to be aware of fake kicks by the Cowboys.
** Punter Jamie Gillan has averaged 45.4 yards gross and 40.0 net. Priefer blamed the early inconsistency on a lack of preseason games for the former rugby player who’s still relatively new to the job.