Not long after the Browns drafted Mitchell Schwartz in April, he caught the attention of his new teammates on the offensive line.
But it wasn’t his massive build — 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds with size 18 shoes — or his resemblance to the WWE wrestler “Big Show” that made the greatest impression. It was his intellect, which allowed him to score 34 on the ACT.
“He’s in the meeting room already making calls and answering questions that, frankly, as a rookie, I’m kind of surprised he knows the answers to,” Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said last month.
The Browns are counting on Schwartz to immediately become their starting right tackle, a position they have had trouble solidifying in recent years. They signed Tony Pashos in 2010 and hoped he could become the solution, but he battled injuries for the past two seasons and was cut in March. General Manager Tom Heckert then picked Schwartz in the second round (37th overall), expecting him to give the offensive line a reliable force opposite Thomas for the foreseeable future.
Schwartz’s ability to master concepts with ease should only continue to help him adjust to the NFL as the Browns’ rookies participate in their first practice of training camp today. He’s confident it will give him an edge.
“It’s being able to pick up the playbook quick,” Schwartz said. “It’s being able to go out there and know the plays. You don’t have to get up there and think, ‘Oh, who do I [block] on this play?’ What you should be saying is, ‘What is the defense doing? Why is the defensive end tighter? Maybe he’s going inside.’
“It’s getting past the first layer of what you should be thinking about, what you should know, and it’s getting to the second layer where you already know what you’re supposed to do. ‘Now let’s go ahead and see if we can pick up any cues from the defense.’ That’s kind of where [intelligence] comes in. If a guy has trouble learning the playbook, you hear the guy plays slower till the playbook gets picked up. I think it’s just ‘cause you’re thinking about all the other stuff that should be kind of innate.”
Making the transition
After redshirting as a freshman at the University of California, Schwartz started all 51 games — 35 at left tackle and 16 at right tackle — of his collegiate career. But Schwartz played left tackle for his final two seasons, meaning he’ll need to grow accustomed to the right side again.
“The hard part is when you get into the team situation, everything’s live and you’re going fast, you’re not thinking about the technique, whether it’s gonna stick,” Schwartz said. “It’s all muscle memory, and that’s why you practice so much, just getting that stuff down, continuing to work at it every single day until it becomes so engrained in you that you don’t have to think about it. That’s, I think, where the transition comes in. I was fortunate to have some pretty good offensive line coaches in college who had NFL experience, so I learned a lot of different techniques.”
Jim Michalczik coached Schwartz as a freshman at Cal, left for a job with the Oakland Raiders and then returned as Cal’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach last season when Schwartz was a senior. Steve Marshall, the Browns’ offensive line coach from 2007-08, coached Schwartz at Cal during his sophomore and junior seasons, then took a job at the University of Colorado.
Neither of Schwartz’s mentors believes he’ll have trouble switching back to right tackle.
“I really don’t think it’ll be a big problem,” Marshall said. “I think one of Mitch’s strengths is his versatility. Obviously his body type and speed and things like that will lend him to play more right tackle in that league. He was one of the better left tackles in the Pac-12. But at the end of the day, he’s really suited for right tackle in the NFL.”
And both of them think Schwartz, 23, will prove himself as a starter right off the bat. Having older brother Geoff, 26, an offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings, as a resource certainly won’t hurt Schwartz as he adapts to the next level.
“He’s a guy that can step right in and is gonna pick things up,” Michalczik said. “He’s a rookie that’s got a mind a little bit closer to a veteran. I think it’s a combination of his intellect and having Geoff as his older brother, someone he trusts to really learn from. And I also think it’s part of his preparation and work ethic. He’s prepared for this. He knows what he’s getting into. He knows what he has to do.”
Before reporting to the Browns’ headquarters on Tuesday, Schwartz spent a couple of weeks at his brother’s home in Charlotte, N.C., so they could work out together. The Schwartz family is based in Los Angeles, where parents Lee Schwartz and Olivia Goodkin live, though Geoff moved to the East Coast after the Carolina Panthers drafted him in the seventh round (241st overall) in 2008.
So far, Geoff’s advice about life in the NFL proved to be invaluable in the spring during minicamps and organized team activities.
“I didn’t have as many surprises just because I kind of knew the general outline of stuff, how things go, what to expect,” said Schwartz, who graduated from Cal last year with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies. “So it wasn’t like it was a completely terrible new situation because I’ve had someone to talk to who has been through similar things.”
How often do the two brothers communicate when they’re apart?
“We text pretty much at all hours of the day, unless we’re sleeping,” Schwartz said. “But even then, usually one of us wakes up to a text from another. It’s just a never-ending dialogue of random things.”
Lee and Olivia’s tight-knit sons are two of only a handful of Jewish players in the NFL. They’re also the first pair of Jewish brothers to play in the league since Ralph and Arnold Horween in 1923, according to Tablet Magazine.
“It’s cool to be part of a smaller group of people that have been successful and have those things in common,” Schwartz said. “It’s hard to put a direct, quantitative stamp on that, but it’s definitely cool to be a representative of that. There are a lot of kids that don’t have too many role models in the NFL or in baseball or basketball to look up to. The fact that we can do that for them is great.”
Not only is Lee proud to have two sons who are living their NFL dreams, but he’s also thankful they share such a strong bond.
“My wife and I think we’re the luckiest parents in the world to have two sons love each other, care for each other,” Lee said. “It’s been that way forever.”
Those who know Schwartz have no doubt his support system will increase his chances of succeeding with the Browns.
“The physical tools, he’s got,” Marshall said. “But it’s the work ethic, it’s studying film, being consistent every day, and that’s what you’re gonna get out of this guy. That’s what you want from an offensive lineman. I think Mitch, no question, will be that kind of guy in the NFL. He was brought up right. He’s got great parents. He’s got an older brother who knows how it’s done.”
The younger Schwartz will know soon enough, too. After all, he’s a quick study.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.