“He’s the smartest guy in this locker room and it’s not even close,” quarterback Brandon Weeden said.
Schwartz doesn’t need his advanced IQ to recognize the depth of the challenge awaiting him Sunday in Denver.
Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller will line up primarily over Schwartz in passing situations and is in the running for defensive player of the year with his 16 sacks and 25 tackles for loss.
“If he’s not the best, he’s very, very close,” Schwartz said.
Miller (6-foot-3, 237 pounds) is in his second season out of Texas A&M. He said former Browns president Mike Holmgren told him Cleveland would draft him if he fell to No. 6, but he didn’t make it past Denver at No. 2.
The Broncos should celebrate the pick every day.
Miller was defensive rookie of the year with 11½ sacks and has improved in Year 2. He joined Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware as the second player since 1994 with 15 sacks, 25 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles in a season. He’s second in the NFL in tackles for loss and third in sacks.
“He’s been an impact guy,” Denver coach John Fox said. “He’s really worked at his game. His rookie year he made a big splash and this year, I think he’s continued that and gotten even better, in particularly in the coverage aspect.”
Denver plays a 4-3 and the outside linebackers must play the run and cover the pass. But Miller really excels when he’s asked to go get the quarterback.
“He’s probably the best pure athlete in terms of speed and change of direction and athleticism,” Schwartz said. “He’s not a huge guy, but he’s got enough size.
“He’s good at taking what the offensive lineman gives him. You set too wide, he’ll get inside of you at the snap of a finger. You try to take that away, and he’ll beat you on the corner.”
Schwartz, the No. 37 pick in the draft, hasn’t been beaten often. He’s played every snap and is part of a line that’s allowed just 26 sacks, which is tied for eighth-fewest in the league. Schwartz has acquitted himself well against some of the best pass rushers in the league, including Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants, Ware and Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs.
“He’s doing a great job this year,” five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said. “He’s exceeded everybody’s expectations.
“He’s playing as well as probably any right tackle in the league and without having seen every rookie, I think he’s probably the best rookie tackle that I’ve seen on film so far. He’s just consistently doing his job day in and day out and that’s what you have to do as a tackle.”
Schwartz hasn’t gotten as much attention as some of Cleveland’s other rookies, including Weeden, running back Trent Richardson and receiver Josh Gordon, but the coaches say that’s a good thing for a lineman.
Miller has noticed.
“He’s pretty solid,” he said. “But it’s kind of hard separating yourself from Joe Thomas on the other side and you have people constantly comparing and contrasting the two. But I think Mitchell Schwartz, he’s one of the better tackles we’ll go against this year.”
Schwartz doesn’t mind being in Thomas’ shadow. Instead, he relishes the opportunity to learn from one of the best in the game.
“It’s huge,” Schwartz said. “He’s pretty much done everything and seen everything a guy can do in the NFL.
“He’s ridiculous. Just the consistency. He’ll go games without having one bad play, which is just insane when you think about it.”
Thomas will be busy on the other side with end Elvis Dumervil, who has nine sacks. Offensive coordinator Brad Childress said he’ll help the tackles by chipping, double-teaming and sliding the protection when he can.
“It’s always nice to get an extra shot on a guy,” Schwartz said. “I think that definitely helps. The more you can take the starch out of a guy the more it helps.”
Miller is loaded with starch. He’s honored to be in the discussion for the league’s top defender, and thinks he deserves the award.
“Haha. Yeah, I definitely think I’m up there,” he said. “(But there’s) a lot of versatile guys out there. But I don’t think that anyone is playing the kind of football — especially in this Denver Broncos scheme — fitting in like me.”
Coach Pat Shurmur ruled out tight end Jordan Cameron (head), safety Tashaun Gipson (foot) and receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (knee) for the game Sunday.
Defensive end Frostee Rucker (shoulder/hip) returned to practice after missing two days, was listed as questionable and expects to start. Tight end/fullback Alex Smith (illness/knee) didn’t practice Friday and was listed as questionable. Backup defensive tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen (calf) is also questionable.
• Eric Hagg is expected to start at free safety in place of Gipson. Hagg started the first two games, played in seven others and was inactive for four, including the last two.
“I’ve been ready to go since I was playing last, just getting mental reps, being on special teams, getting some reps at nickel and stuff like that,” he said. “It’ll be good.”
• Rookie Tank Carder expects to make his first career start at strongside linebacker in place of rookie James-Michael Johnson, who was put on injured reserve with a knee injury. The Broncos use a lot of three-receiver sets, so the Browns may not spend much time in their base defense. Carder will be replaced in nickel situations, but was excited for the chance to go against quarterback Peyton Manning.
“You’re playing against arguably one of the best to play the game, smartest for sure,” Carder said. “He’s definitely going to be a Hall of Famer. And first NFL start playing against a Hall of Famer, that’s definitely huge.”
• Rookie receiver Josh Cooper will take Massaquoi’s place in the rotation, lining up as the slot receiver in some three-receiver sets. Cooper had seven catches in four games but has been inactive the last four weeks.