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Browns turn to Joel Bitonio to replace Joe Thomas at left tackle

BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns' search for a successor to Joe Thomas at left tackle turned to a guard reluctant to move outside.

On Wednesday, the team moved Joel Bitonio from left guard to left tackle and put rookie Austin Corbett at left guard. Bitonio replaces Shon Coleman, who clearly did not work out.

"As I kept telling you guys, I'm going to put the best five players out there," coach Hue Jackson said.

The move comes a few days after offensive line coach Bob Wylie said moving Bitonio was Option Z on the A-to-Z scale. But Jackson said he made the decision after watching tape and talking with the staff on the players' day off Tuesday.

"Was he reluctant?" Jackson said. "Yeah. I would be, too. He plays a position and he's real good at it, but I think for his teammates, his coaching staff and for all involved, he knows it's the best place for him to be right now."

"Obviously I'm still most comfortable at guard right now," Bitonio said. "I'm going to try to give it my best shot when I go out there and compete."

Bitonio played one year of left tackle at Nevada, one year at right tackle and one year where he moved between spots depending on the play call. Because the Browns had Thomas, Bitonio was slotted in at guard after he was drafted in the second round in 2014. He turned into one of the best in the league when he was healthy. But he said he did not take a rep at left tackle until the spring, after Thomas retired.

"It's an unknown," he said. "You're always scared of the unknown. I don't how it's going to go at left tackle; I kind of know how it's going to go at left guard."

Necessity sometimes leads to change, and the Browns need to find the successor to the guy who will soon be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The team does have undrafted free agent Desmond Harrison and former second overall pick Greg Robinson, but Harrison started camp injured and Robinson has missed time with a concussion.

Jackson said it's "full speed ahead" with Bitonio at his new position.

"We know he's one of the best left guards in football," Jackson said. "He has the versatility to go out there and play."

Bionio was a starter at Nevada when Corbett was in his redshirt year. Corbett then went on to start 48 games at left tackle in college. He now moves to guard, while Bitonio moves to tackle (after moving to guard), a kind of connection that only seems to happen with the Browns.

Bitonio did reach out to Thomas after he got the news.

"He said he is going to be here in a week or so for a day or two," Bitonio said. "I was like, 'I will need some pointers from you.'"