The Browns went into the offseason determined to bolster three critical parts of the offense — quarterback, running back and protection for both.
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General manager Tom Heckert took care of the first two parts of the mission in the first round when he drafted Trent Richardson third and Brandon Weeden 22nd.
Heckert then got Richardson and Weeden a bodyguard when he used his third choice, pick 37 overall, on tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Schwartz was the starting right tackle Wednesday (May 30) during OTAs, and as long as he doesn’t trip over his size 18 shoes, he’ll also be the starting right tackle in the season opener Sept. 9 against the Eagles.
Schwartz is replacing Tony Pashos, the right tackle released in March. If all goes as projected, the bookends of the line — Joe Thomas at left tackle and Schwartz on the right — will be set for at least the next four years.
“I’m aware of the situation,” Schwartz said. “You have to get the coaches’ trust before they can put you on the field. They’re not going to put anyone out there they don’t believe in. If they think you’re going to miss a guy and blow up the quarterback, it’s not a good situation.”
Schwartz’ brother, Geoff, was drafted by the Panthers and now plays for the Vikings. Mitchell Schwartz played one year at Cal with Browns center Alex Mack. Though he is a rookie, Schwartz enters the NFL knowing what to expect.
“Fundamentality, there aren’t really too many guys that can just go out here and just be an athlete and do what they want and get away with it,” Schwartz said. “The quality of guy you are going to face is the best guy you have ever faced, every single week. You have to have really good technique.
“I had two great coaches that kind of hammered that home. I’ve been able to learn from two guys that have been in the pros before. They understand what the techniques are that work and how to go about practice and go about your job as a professional. I do think I’m pretty well advanced coming in here from that prospective.”
Heckert had his choice of tackles with supposedly bigger names according to draft analysts — players such as Cordy Glenn of Georgia, Jonathan Martin of Stanford or Mike Adams of Ohio State. Those players went to Buffalo (41), Miami (42) and Pittsburgh (56) respectively.
Heckert does not pay attention to the Mel Kipers of the draft magazine business.
“Obviously, we thought (Schwartz is better) or we would have taken the other guy,” Heckert said. “He’s a big kid, he’s athletic and he played left tackle. He has played right tackle in the past. He is a very solid guy. He played well at the Senior Bowl. He is just a good player.”
Schwartz, 320 pounds, started three games at right tackle and the final 10 at left tackle as a freshman at Cal in 2008. He started all 13 games at right tackle in 2009. He started 12 games at left tackle in 2010, had back surgery in the spring of 2011 but recovered to start all 13 games at left tackle last fall.
Playing in the Pac-12 prepared him for the NFL, Schwartz said. As a freshman he went against Clay Matthews III, who in the spring of 2009 was a first-round draft choice by the Green Bay Packers. Schwartz said he “held my own” against the son of the former Browns linebacker.
“I don’t know about NFL ready,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “I do know this; he is very sound in his fundamentals. I think that will give him a chance to speed up the process to be an NFL player.
“He is very detailed with his sets. He is good with his hands and he understands what the defense is going to do by the way they are aligned. He’s a very sharp guy. I think you can tell he’s a guy that has detailed his work because it shows up in his play.”
The Browns are banking heavily on Schwartz. They were not going to take a right tackle in the first round, but in deciding to take him at 37 they passed on wide receivers Stephen Hill from Georgia Tech (43rd to the Jets) and Alshon Jeffrey (45th to the Bears). They passed on high-risk (drug arrests) but talented cornerback Janoris Jenkins (39th to the Rams) and they passed on all but three linebackers.