Browns rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz studied the game tape from his NFL debut Friday against the Detroit Lions, he listened to offensive line coach George Warhop’s critique and he consulted his older brother, Geoff, a guard for the Minnesota Vikings.
It all confirmed what Schwartz already knew — he must play at a higher level. He’ll have a chance to show improvement at 8 p.m. today when the Browns face the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in the second preseason game for both teams.
“I expect myself to progress,” Schwartz said. “I was happy to get back out here on the field [for practice] to try to work on some of the things I didn’t do as well. It really kind of irritates me when I don’t do something right, and I just want to get it corrected. I don’t want to keep making that same mistake over and over. So I expect to be better this game. I expect to do the technical things better and have more success.”
The Browns have had problems at right tackle in recent years, and they drafted Schwartz in the second round (37th overall) to solve those issues. They’re counting on him to protect rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, the 22nd overall pick, and create holes for rookie running back Trent Richardson, the third overall selection who’s missing the preseason because of recent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. They need him to be a force opposite Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas.
Schwartz, though, struggled against the Lions, and a couple of his mistakes were magnified because they played a part in killing the momentum of the Browns’ first drive.
After Weeden completed a 34-yard pass to rookie wide receiver Travis Benjamin to set up first-and-10 at the Lions’ 23-yard line, he threw two incomplete passes. On third down, Schwartz was called for a false start, though replays show he wasn’t the only offensive lineman who moved before the snap.
On third-and-15, Lions defensive end Willie Young lined up across from tight end Jordan Cameron and Schwartz. Once the play started, Cameron shoved Young to the inside, and he got between Schwartz and right guard Shawn Lauvao. Young then hit Weeden’s arm as he tried to get rid of the ball, forcing a fumble. Young recovered, and the play stood after the replay assistant challenged it.
“I think the tape pretty much showed what I thought after the game,” Schwartz said. “There were some pressure issues that are my fault that I need to clean up. It’s just getting back to base technique, base fundamentals, being good with your feet, being good with your hands, understanding where your help is. Some plays you’ll get a nice little chip from the receivers, and they’ll help on the defensive end. So on one of those I probably went out a little too far and wasn’t able to recover.”
The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Schwartz played the entire first half against the Lions, even though the other starters on offense left the game late in the first quarter. Coach Pat Shurmur said the first unit will play at least a half and perhaps into the third quarter tonight.
NFL teams usually treat the third preseason game as a dress rehearsal by playing the starters for about three quarters. Instead of following the traditional format, Shurmur seems inclined to use his team’s second exhibition game against the Packers more like a dress rehearsal because the Browns will play the Philadelphia Eagles in their third preseason game and in their regular-season opener Sept. 9. Neither Shurmur nor Eagles coach Andy Reid wants to give away any secrets before Week 1.
Schwartz, meanwhile, knows his next task is daunting. Not only will he face the zone blitz the Packers employ in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme, but he’ll also face a unit led by a familiar foe, standout outside linebacker Clay Matthews. When Schwartz was a freshman at the University of California, he faced Matthews while he played for the University of Southern California.
“He’s such a great player now,” Schwartz said. “He’s progressed so much. He’s turned himself into a real complete player. … He’s not just a one-trick guy that can rush the passer. He can do a little bit of everything.”
After playing left tackle during his final two seasons, Schwartz is still fine-tuning his technique on the right side of the line. He believes details are the difference between success and failure.
“I’ve felt pretty comfortable [on the right side] for a while now,” Schwartz said. “There’s some stuff with my hands I’m still working on, just getting timing down on the punches. Hand placement is such a big thing. If you miss by 6 inches and the guy gets his hand in your chest and you get your hand outside, he’s got all the power. He’s got all the advantage.
“It’s something you’ve got to be real precise with every time. When you watch a guy like Joe [Thomas], that’s part of the reason he’s so good. You can pretty much draw two little circles on the [defensive] guy before they even start and [Thomas’] hands are gonna end up there. So I’m just finding my own rhythm and making sure I’m doing the same thing.”
Shurmur believes Schwartz’s study habits are conducive to fixing errors.
“I think that’s an important part of his personality,” Shurmur said. “He’s a very detailed guy. He’s very precise. I think that’s what makes him technically pretty sound at what he does. Now what he encountered the other night [against the Lions] was a pretty good pass rush, and I saw him working through it as he played the game. He’s a very fine player, and I think he’ll continue to improve here through the preseason.”
No one doubts Schwartz has the mental capacity for the NFL. After all, he scored 34 on the ACT. The more pertinent question is whether he can adapt to the speed and advanced moves defensive ends possess at the professional level.
He has experienced some difficulty containing Browns left end Jabaal Sheard during training camp. But Sheard, who had a team-high 8½ sacks as a rookie last season, is confident Schwartz can adjust to the speed of elite pass rushers.
“I don’t think he has a problem,” Sheard said. “He’s been getting better in practice against me. I know the first day, I probably was getting him a little bit, but now it’s kind of tough to get him. He’s been working hard, and I think he’s gonna be all right.”
It’s still early, of course, but Schwartz could take a major step toward proving himself if he has a solid showing tonight.
“I know when things aren’t going right,” Schwartz said. “I know when I need to work on things. I know when it’s not good enough and what I need to get better.”
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.