This is a multi-part series covering several areas of offensive line play in 2017; predictions on the five best OL units, top 3 OL at each position based on tape study, surprise OL unit/top backup OL, and a Q&A session with Chiefs RT Mitchell Schwartz – covering different aspects of his career and OL play in general.
Mitchell Schwartz Q&A:
Q: Can you speak to the importance of the culture and environment in the OL room to on-field production and development? What, if any, are the differences between Cleveland and Kansas City in this regard?
A: Most guys play up or down to their peers. If the people you look up to, like the starters or the top 2 guys on the line, do things a certain way then you tend to try to emulate them. If, as an older guy and one that younger guys look up to, you’re ok making mental errors or not finishing, the younger guy will say “well yea I screwed up that play but X does that all the time, it isn’t a big deal.” That’s the wrong attitude to foster, so having guys who set a good example and do things professionally trickles down to the younger players. If you hold yourself accountable, typically others will also hold themselves accountable as well. Now there are always guys who slack off or who you have to try and bring along, and that’s when being vocal becomes important. In terms of differences between CLE and KC, the biggest one is the age difference. I had an OL in Cleveland that was filled with older players and guys at the top of their position. So they set the tempo, and each of them contributed something a little different. Leading into the next question, since these kind of blend together, but you’d pick up different things from different guys. Alex is a relentless finisher on the field, and you’d be embarrassed to be standing around and watching the RB trying to finish and then see Alex fly out of nowhere to clean the pile. You’d pick up your game because of him, and then it got to be a unit’s mission, instead of just one guy. Joe’s a guy that makes things look very easy on film, but when you get to be around him every day you realize how much practice goes into getting to that point. Of course he has attributes that other people don’t have, but he also works exceptionally hard to maintain his craft. You see him working extra on his pass sets, or on his game plan for the week, and you think “well if he’s working that hard and he’s this good, how hard do I have to work to even get close?”
Q: Have you taken on more of a leadership role being the oldest starter on the OL? How has playing with guys like Joe Thomas and Alex Mack helped this transition?
A: I have taken on more of a leadership role, out of necessity because of the age as you’ve mentioned, but also because I want to have a room with a high standard and that needs to start somewhere. In Cleveland, Joe and Alex are perfectionists, and I am too, and that’s something that I think every OL should strive for because it will always lead you to keep working hard and honing your technique. You blend what you find important to talk to the younger guys about with what guys like Joe and Mack have told you for 4 years and then try to help out the younger guys as much as possible. Sometimes it’s a small technique thing, sometimes it’s an attitude adjustment, just depends on the situation. But if you see things happening that you think are detrimental or will lead to something negative down the road you try to correct it.
Q: What other tackles in the NFL do you study and can you give a few examples of what makes their game special?
A: I study most linemen in the NFL. Joe’s consistency is unparalleled. He is #1 or at the top of so many important OL traits. His technique, balance, intelligence, ability to see what move the DL is making, ability to counter that, ability to get himself out of a rare tough situation and recover. He’s just amazing at every one of those. Tyron blends insane athleticism and build/body type with great technique as well. That trap/snatch he’s developed is uniquely his own, and he can do it because his arms are so long that even when a defender is long-arming him he still has his hands on their shoulder pad. Both GB Tackles are fantastic. Bak has perfected his pass set and his inside hand leverage at the contact point. He seems to always get leverage even if he’s not traditionally punching. Bulaga takes great sets as well and always seems to be balanced and in control. There’s no panic in his game, he’s always smoothly setting the tone or reacting to the rush with the proper counter maneuver.
Q: Most people seem to think it is simple and easy to switch from left to right tackle/guard or vice versa. What are the two or three main things that make this switch so difficult along the OL?
A: The main reason is pure muscle memory. Your body is used to working with a certain stagger, a certain dominant hand, and switching that is awkward. It takes most guys a few years to feel truly comfortable at their one specific position, so to expect guys to switch in a week in the middle of the season to accommodate an injury is just silly. It can be done, obviously, guys do it every year, but it’s not ideal and won’t lead to the “best” version of that player. For instance, when right side guys anchor, their right foot is back. When they first go to left, they know you’re supposed to anchor with your left foot back, but you’ll often see them drop their natural right foot back on a bull rush. This leads them to open up their inside and can lead to pressure and other bad things because of it.
Q: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif made a big jump in terms of consistency, technique, and overall development from 2015 to 2016. Has anything stood out about his game, mentality, or preparation most since you joined the team last season?
A: He works exceptionally hard at what he’s doing. He’s always trying to improve and get better. He’s a big, strong guy, so even if he gets into a bad position he can recover and still win because of his natural ability. He also is a big time finisher and can wear guys out throughout the course of the game.