By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns second-year right offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz has seen the headliner of his draft class traded and another fellow 2012 selection endure rampant speculation the past few weeks about being shipped away.
Schwartz, though, has no interest in worrying about his future as the Browns (3-2) prepare for their game Sunday against the Detroit Lions (3-2) at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
“I don’t really think about that stuff,” Schwartz, a second-round pick in last year’s draft, said Thursday before practice.
In the aftermath of the Browns trading running back Trent Richardson, the third overall pick in last year’s draft, to the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 18 in exchange for a 2014 first-round pick, rumblings about Schwartz being replaced and possibly dealt have also surfaced. Those rumors, though, have been overshadowed by reports that the Browns have engaged in discussions with other teams about trading wide receiver Josh Gordon, a second-round choice in last year’s supplemental draft.
With the Oct. 29 trade deadline on the horizon, coach Rob Chudzinski has repeatedly tried to quash the rumors about Gordon, insisting Wednesday that the Browns are “not shopping Josh and we have no plans of trading Josh.” But players drafted by ex-Browns General Manager Tom Heckert — including Schwartz, Gordon and quarterback Brandon Weeden — realize their long-term futures with the team are uncertain, especially after witnessing Richardson’s departure.
On Oct. 6, Jason La Canfora of CBS reported that the Browns tried to strike a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars for offensive tackle Eugene Monroe and asked about the Jaguars’ interest in a player — who La Canfora believes was either Schwartz or third-year wide receiver Greg Little. But the Browns were told that the Jaguars weren’t interested in the player and that their trade with the Baltimore Ravens was nearly complete.
The Jaguars dealt Monroe to the Ravens in exchange for fourth- and fifth-round picks on Oct. 3. According to the Baltimore Sun, the Ravens agreed to pay $547,000 of Monroe’s remaining $2.91 million salary with the Jaguars picking up the rest.
If the Browns were given a chance to further negotiate, they would have been willing to surrender a second-day draft pick and pay the full remainder of Monroe’s salary, La Canfora reported. The organization valued Monroe as a long-term answer at right tackle, according to the report.
The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Schwartz insisted he wasn’t aware of the report. But does he think he needs to prove himself to the new regime?
“No, I’m not going to play any harder,” Schwartz said. “I already play as hard as I can. How’s that going to affect me?”
Only the team’s decision-makers can answer Schwartz’s rhetorical question. The bottom line is he must continue to improve to gain their trust.
After the Browns defeated the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 29, offensive coordinator Norv Turner said Schwartz “had by far his best game” and praised him for bouncing back from poor performances in the first two games.
“Mitch is just a lot more comfortable with everything we’re doing,” Turner said. “He got off to a [rough] start, and he’s rebounded.”
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Schwartz has allowed two sacks in the past three games after giving up five in the first two games. Part of the difference can probably be attributed to quarterback Brian Hoyer getting rid of the ball quicker in Weeks 3 and 4 than Brandon Weeden in the first two games before he sprained his right thumb.
Still, Schwartz believes he has made strides in pass protection.
“You’ve got to figure out why you didn’t perform well, how to fix it and then do that in practice and make sure that translates to the game,” said Schwartz, whom the Browns picked 37th overall last year out of the University of California. “The biggest thing is understanding what went wrong and how you can change it.
“[The key difference has been] me dictating as opposed to waiting back a little bit. I think you can get a little bit too much into what do you have to do against this guy and how do you counter his moves, and sometimes you just have to be good with what you’re doing and just react to the moves and let that take care of itself.”
With Hoyer suffering a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament Oct. 3 in a win over the Buffalo Bills, Weeden is back in the starting lineup. The Lions have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, featuring tackles Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and ends Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah and Willie Young, who Schwartz will face the most.
“They don’t really pressure much,” Schwartz said. “They kind of rely on those four guys to create havoc for them. You can tell they have a lot of trust in them.”
Although Schwartz has progressed in recent weeks, he must be at his best to adequately protect Weeden from the Lions.
“There’s still a lot of things to clean up,” Schwartz said. “Sometimes you do the job, but it doesn’t mean you’re doing it right. There are some things that you could expose yourself to down the line. I’ve been focusing on that this week, cleaning those things up to make sure you’re not only getting the job done, but you’re doing it the right way.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.