ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (TNS) — It was a rainy game day in Green Bay when Mitchell Schwartz looked down at his mud-stained pants.
When the game started, his Cleveland uniform was a clean white, but by the end of the grimy afternoon, the entire offensive line’s pants were soaked and streaked with grime.
Except one: Joe Thomas.
“All our pants are soaked and muddy and stuff, and Joe looks down and goes, ‘Huh. My pants are pretty clean,’” Schwartz said Friday, laughing at the memory. “He played pretty much the whole game in the mud and never fell. He’s that good and his balance is that good. That’s just how special he is.”
Now entering his third year in Kansas City, Schwartz aspires to be like Thomas, who retired in the offseason after starting 167 consecutive games in his 11-year career with the Browns.
Schwartz started with Thomas on Cleveland’s line for four seasons, anchoring the right tackle spot while Thomas played the left. There, Schwartz got a front-row seat to watch the 10-time Pro Bowler hone his craft, and it motivated Schwartz to be better.
“Just being able to see that model and the way I tick, that’s kind of a goal and what you strive for,” Schwartz said. “I would say I’m nowhere near his level and that’s something I try to attain. I think that’s what motivates me.”
He’s already playing in Thomas’ mold, currently on a streak of more than 6,200 consecutive snaps played over his six-season career. Thomas, of course, retired with a whopping 10,363 consecutive snaps.
As far as Schwartz can recall, he’s only earned a perfect grade for one game, and even then, it wasn’t flawless.
“That’s just production,” he said of the grade, “not necessarily technique.”
Some might be satisfied with even achieving one perfect game and a handful of second-team All-Pro honors, but not Schwartz — not after playing with Thomas for so many years.
“I kind of have a pessimistic view of things,” Schwartz said. “Probably the perfectionist aspect of always achieving. The unfortunate part of playing with Joe Thomas for four years is seeing him do things pretty perfectly and look perfect. There’s games where you’re graded out, and he’d have a perfect game, and you’d get pretty close and have two minuses.”
Schwartz spent most of his offseason preparing for the upcoming year, but when he wasn’t working out, Schwartz spent his time in the kitchen or at the grill, whipping up briskets and burgers.
“I like to cook a lot,” Schwartz said. “I like to cook as much meals at home as possible. … The offseason, we have a lot of time off and you can only work out so much. We’ve got a little extra time to play around.”
This year, Schwartz’s job is as important as it’s ever been. He and the rest of the veteran offensive line will be tasked with protecting a young quarterback.
But unlike the last couple of years, the position group has the added benefit of a healthy complement of linemen for training camp.
A year ago, left guard Parker Ehinger started camp on the physically unable to play list, and during the season, center Mitch Morse and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif missed significant time with injuries.
But everyone reported to camp healthy this year, giving the group a firm foundation for the upcoming season.
“I think since I’ve been here, it’s the most experienced offensive line we’ve had,” Schwartz said. “Pretty much all the same guys coming back. So it’s been good. You just gain so much experience playing with the guy next to you and it gets to a point where you just understand each other, whether it’s how your bodies work and not stepping on each other.”
Saturday, the team gets to put on pads for the first time, and for Schwartz, expectations for his unit and for himself are as high as they’ve ever been. He was a solid player last year in 16 starts, but he’s not getting complacent.
“There’s no sense of satisfaction that you get paid or you get praised,” Schwartz said. “Now, people are looking for you and expecting for you to play as an All-Pro and the best right tackle. That just puts more pressure on you. Really make sure that you focus and do your job.”