The running back was penciled in as a starter shortly after minicamp started.
But the third — and least known and least glamorous — of the Browns top three draft picks in April might have just as much effect on the team’s growth this 2012 season.
Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is that important.
Because the Browns’ offensive struggles last season were not solely because of the quarterback or the lack of a dependable running back — though those contributed.
Right tackle was a near black hole, with three different players starting games. The guy the Browns wanted to start, Tony Pashos, fought as hard as he could, playing the season with a torn tendon in his left foot that needed offseason surgery. That contributed, naturally, to a tough season, which led to his release shortly after his surgery.
Enter Mitchell Schwartz, a big, strong, gnarly, bearded guy from Cal who, at 6-foot-5 and a rock-solid 315 pounds, looks the part of a lineman.
Schwartz could be the fulcrum that solidifies the line.
The Browns have a standout at left tackle in Joe Thomas and a solid player at center in Alex Mack. They believe they have an improving left guard in Jason Pinkston, and they hope that Shawn Lauvao develops this season the way Pinkston did last.
But when the outside edge on one side is weak, the entire line looks bad. If Schwartz comes through, the Browns could conceivably have five young linemen and a team concern could turn into a strength. It’s the way teams generally build, by acquiring parts and letting them grow together.
Schwartz admitted that minicamp is not the place to judge him, but he did see the time as important because it allowed him to learn the system and reassure coaches he could pick it up.
“Something I’ve prided myself on is not making mental mistakes out there,’’ he said when minicamp ended. “To be in the right spot when you need to. It’s part of being a good teammate, part of being a good player on the field.”
Schwartz said that being mentally prepared “takes no talent” but is vital.
“It’s doing the stuff that you’re supposed to be doing,” he said. “Where am I supposed to be on this play? Who do I have? All the stuff that makes your coaches trust you, makes the guy you’re playing next to trust you. If you’re really good with that you can clean up technique stuff later.
“But you have to be really good getting out of the chute.”
Browns coaches were impressed with Schwartz’s lateral movement, his smarts and his concentration.
“I think he’s very intelligent,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “He’s very technically sound. He’s a big-body guy, but he responds well, at least it looks like, to some of the speed rush that we’ve seen from our guys.
“He’s done a good job with that and then I think he understands the concepts pretty well and it’s showing up in his play.”
Schwartz said the playbook in Cleveland is not that different to him; he called the Cal offense diverse and complex.
“I’ve been exposed to almost all the schemes you can be exposed to,” he said. “Some of this technique stuff’s a little bit different. That’s obviously why you practice. You got to pick up on that stuff.”
At that point Schwartz elaborated on what he means by “technique,” and in doing so showed the complexities of his position.
“Some stuff with footwork, hand placement,” he said. “Sometimes the aiming point is down the middle, sometimes it’s a little further outside.
“Different coaches like different things. Different schemes are a little bit different.
“You don’t think it makes a huge difference, but if you go head up on a guy vs. low outside you can cut off the backside guy, get the help you need. Just little stuff like that.”
But stuff that can make a big difference.
Kind of like Schwartz himself. He gets little attention compared to the two guys drafted ahead of him at the more glamorous positions, but he can make a big difference for the Browns.