Chiefs’ Mitchell Schwartz tasked with trying to block Joey Bosa
It’s hard to fool Mitchell Schwartz.
But not impossible.
Case in point, the distinguished football career of Schwartz — who earned a Super Bowl ring as right tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs — began with a bait-and-switch.
As an incoming freshman at Palisades High, he had no interest in playing football and following the path blazed by his older brother, Geoff, who also went on to become an NFL offensive lineman. Though built to block in the trenches, Mitchell wanted to play baseball.
“He was a big guy, but he said he really didn’t feel like playing,” recalled his father, Lee. “Then he said, ‘Well, maybe if they’d let me play quarterback, I’d consider it.’ ”
The Chargers lost center Mike Pouncey for the season Thursday because of a hip problem that requires surgery. He will have the procedure done this month.
So Schwartz’s father and older brother tipped off the JV coach: Give him a chance, even a nominal one, at quarterback. Everyone could see where this was heading.
“The very first game Mitchell went in, in shotgun, took the snap, and without basically even taking a step, flicked his wrist,” his father said. “As I remember, the ball went 30 yards, he completed the pass. That was the only pass he threw.”
The pass was complete … and so was the assignment.
“I went out and played quarterback for about a week or two,” Schwartz said, “and then they’re like, ‘You know, we’re gonna need someone a little more mobile at quarterback for the system we have. So we’re gonna move you to the offensive line.’”
That might have been disappointing for him at the time, but it was the beginning of a remarkable odyssey for the bearded, soft-spoken Schwartz, 31, who went from the University of California, to the Cleveland Browns, to the Chiefs, where he has quietly rounded into one of the NFL’s premier offensive tackles.
He’s the right-side protector for quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and Sunday will see a full afternoon of Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player.
What Schwartz lacks in raw athleticism, he makes up for in intellect and exacting preparation. He’s got a mind for math and angles.
“He plays smarter not harder, because he understands what’s about to happen,” said his brother, Geoff, who played offensive line in the NFL from 2008-16 with five teams.
Part of that is Mitchell’s meticulous attention to detail, which surfaces in other parts of life as well. He’s passionate about cooking, for instance, and has a blog called “Mitch in the Kitch,” where he posts videos of preparing everything from French toast to fajitas, bratwurst to brisket. He follows recipes to the letter, weighing ingredients to the fraction of an ounce and carefully monitoring his creations with a laser thermometer.
“It’s something I’ve always been interested in,” he said. “Every year I get a little more into it. Learn some new things, find some new techniques. Really, the love has just grown.”
The Rams already have awarded starting receiver Cooper Kupp with a new contract, and hope to do the same soon for bookend Robert Woods, who has outperformed his contract.
This much is obvious in his culinary artistry: He’s patient, and he doesn’t cut corners. Those are hallmarks of his playing too. Late last season was the first time in his career he missed a snap. He had to leave a game against the Tennessee Titans at the end of the first half to have his knee checked on the sideline.
In his previous eight years, Schwartz had accumulated 7,894 consecutive offensive snaps, the most by any active player in the league. He returned to play the entire second half.
Schwartz learned from the master. In Cleveland, he was the bookend tackle to the legendary Joe Thomas, a seven-time All-Pro who played 10,363 consecutive snaps. That’s believed to be the NFL record, although the history on that is a little fuzzy because consecutive snaps weren’t always counted.
“I had a broken shoelace and missed one snap in my senior year at Cal,” Schwartz told The Times last year. “But I didn’t really think about a streak until I got to Cleveland. I noticed Joe had his streak, and I’m like, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ ”
Schwartz and Thomas were best of pals with the Browns, and both were detail-oriented to the extreme.
“I would say my grammar and my spelling and my speech got a lot better when I was around Mitch, because he really relished in calling you out,” said Thomas, who retired in early 2018 and is now an NFL Network analyst.
“We would giggle in meetings a lot of times when our coaches would use apostrophes in the wrong manner. One of our coaches would always show us the practice prep before practice. One of the drills we always did was called ‘MITTS,’ and the coach would always write, ‘M-I-T-T apostrophe S.’ Mitch and I would be giggling in the back like fourth-grade schoolgirls every time he’d write that. It was just stupid stuff like that, how we amused ourselves.”
With many new players manning the defense, and many of them young, the Rams defended surprisingly well in their opening victory over Dallas, especially considering there were no preseason games.
Schwartz still can remember getting a perfect score on every spelling test in elementary school, except one in third grade when he left the ‘i’ out of porpoise.
“Mitch is the only person who ever remembers any of their spelling tests when they were in elementary school,” Thomas said with a laugh. “Normal humans don’t remember any of their spelling tests.”
Attention to detail has paid off in a big way for the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Schwartz. He’s been a first-team All-Pro once, and a second-teamer three times.
“He understands rushers,” Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “He can switch mentality based on who’s up against him.”
And — something his mother appreciates — he can throw the switch on that entire mind-set the moment he steps off the field.
“It’s such a generalization, but it’s something I’ve noticed in the offensive linemen I’ve met,” said Schwartz’s mother, Olivia Goodkin. “They’re like gentle giants in real life. It’s really sort of funny to me. They’re affectionate, they’re sweet, they’re nice. And of course they have to turn on the aggression on the field, which he does.”
Times staff writer Jeff Miller contributed to this report.
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