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Joel Bitonio feeling good after rough 2023, taking one-year-at-a-time approach to his career

ROCKY RIVER — Joel Bitonio felt his age last season.

The 32-year-old left guard had arthroscopic knee surgery during the season that ended his streak of 102 regular-season games without missing a snap, left another game in the first quarter with a back injury that lingered, was bothered by a sore oblique and missed time in the playoff loss with a high ankle sprain. He left Berea in January in a walking boot and needed a few months before he was able to golf.

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He looked refreshed Monday at the Cleveland Browns Foundation’s annual golf tournament and said he’s ready for another season — his 11th since the Browns drafted him in the second round, No. 35 overall, in 2014.

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“I feel really good right now,” he said before teeing off at Westwood Country Club. “You don’t play football for a few months plus you get some treatments and some stuff taken care of, and the body starts to feel a lot better. So right now I’m at a good space physically and I’m upping my running and conditioning and been lifting. We got a little bit of time before the season starts, so hopefully it just keeps improving.”

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Bitonio made his sixth straight Pro Bowl as a starter last year, but his streak as a first-team All-Pro ended at two. He finished fourth at left guard in the voting, and his performance was affected by the injuries.

At this stage of his career, he’s not getting ahead of himself.

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“I’m truly taking it one year, one game at a time. You never know,” he said. “You know, Joe (Thomas) played 11 years. I’m going to 11 years now.

“So it’s a blessing every time I get to keep playing football. It’s gonna (be) dictated a lot (by) how my body feels and how we are as a team, as well.

“But right now I feel good and I’m ready for this year and hopefully I can bounce back physically and have a great year.”

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Bitonio has attended parts of the offseason program but not the organized team activities practices that conclude this week. He’ll be at mandatory minicamp next week.

“As a rookie, I thought if I took two days off, I was behind for the season, so I was just constantly, ‘I’m back at it, I got to start training,’” he said. “And now there’s a fine line between wearing myself out before the season starts and making sure I’m in shape to play. So it’s definitely a difference.

“Having kids, too, you got time to hang out with them and take trips with them. But I figured it out well and I’ve been able to ramp myself up to really be at my best when the season is starting.”

Managing repetitions and time on his legs has become part of the routine. He usually gets at least one practice off a week during the season.

“It’s tough because I actually enjoy practicing and being out there and trying to work on my craft, and that was part of it last year, I couldn’t with the way my body was reacting,” Bitonio said. “But it’s still working out, still getting the reps you can, but also taking the days when you need it to make sure you’re ready for Sunday. It’s a fine line, but I think we’re working through it and I think we have a pretty good plan.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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