All-Pro Cleveland Browns guard Joel Bitonio heard the boos directed at teammate Deshaun Watson on Friday, and he’s stepping up to defend Cleveland from the backlash related to the QB.
Cleveland’s preseason matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars held tremendous hype as audiences eagerly waited to see Watson take the field after nearly 19 months of inactivity in the NFL and with the QB within the focus of the NFL for a potential one-year suspension.
Jaguars fans welcomed Watson with boos and an NSFW chant that made the pent-up offseason vitriol fairly apparent, also stemming from his legal drama as Watson tries to fend off 24 accounts of sexual misconduct from numerous massage therapists.
When asked about the boos heard from EverBank Field on Friday, Bitonio commented that the team had had a target on its back due to the Watson controversy all offseason. And that Cleveland will “be ready for it” in the upcoming season.
“You know, I think once Deshaun came out of the game, we got booed less, but you go to a road game, they boo you anyway, so you know what I mean?” Bitonio shared ahead of Sunday’s training camp, according to the Akron Beacon Journal’s Chris Westerling.
“So we’ll see how it goes. I’m sure, it seems like more than ever, Cleveland against the world, so we’ll be ready for it,” Bitonio added.
The Browns went on to win their preseason debut over the Jags, 24-13.
Bitonio also spoke about what he believes is Watson’s thought process amid a busy offseason, and year, of headlines.
“I haven’t talked to him about that,” Bitonio said. “I’m sure not playing football in however long it’s been is probably a bigger concern. But the crowd was loud for a preseason game in Jacksonville. They got pretty loud down there.”
Watson completed one pass to tight end David Njoku (1 of 5, 7 yards) to mark his official return to preseason action.
As far as the regular season goes, Watson will need to wait until Week 7 of the 2022-23 NFL season to return to action following former federal judge Sue L. Robinson’s investigation into the allegations against Watson, which concluded with a six-game suspension.
The NFL appealed Robinson’s decision days after the suspension news. Commissioner Roger Goodell’s designee Peter C. Harvey will decide on a potential uptick in suspension time. The League has viewed Watson’s personal conduct policy offense as worthy of a one-year ban.