BEREA — Anthony Schwartz admitted he felt down.
Fans were blaming his hands; the Browns’ second-year wide receiver knew it was more than that.
The 2021 third-round pick is healthy after missing five training camp practices with a strained knee. He knows the position battles are wide open behind four-time Pro Bowler Amari Cooper. With Cooper resting, Schwartz was in the starting lineup in the preseason-opening 24-13 victory Friday at Jacksonville.
“It was a pretty rough night,” Schwartz said.
On the first play, quarterback Deshaun Watson’s pass intended for a wide-open Schwartz sailed high. On the second snap, Schwartz dropped the ball on a slant. Before the first quarter ended, he had dropped another on a crossing route. His stat line for the game — three targets, zero catches.
“There’s no excuses for me dropping the ball, but I can see how I was probably a little too into my head, pretty much pressing and not letting the game come to me,” Schwartz said Tuesday. “I think that’s a thing I need to work on and get back as far as that part, mentally.”
Schwartz said he received plenty of encouragement from Watson, acquired in a March 18 trade from the Houston Texans and playing his first game since Jan. 3, 2021.
“I made sure to tell him like, ‘This is on me,’ and he said, ‘Nah, we got you. I’m still coming to you. I trust in you,’” Schwartz said of three-time Pro Bowler Watson. “It instills more confidence, it instills more motivation, he still wants to come to me. It’s just a great feeling, I know I’ve got to get better.
“In the moment, everything can either be better than it is or worse than it is. I just felt down and he came to me…. It kind of uplifted me a little bit and just helped me even more to know what I’ve got to work on.”
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In practice this week, Schwartz said he’s trying to catch more balls in positions that aren’t as natural, “kind of that in-between area.” He's also “treating every rep like it’s a game rep.”
“Just keeping that motivation, keeping that fire going,” Schwartz said.
On the first play of the Jaguars' game, Watson may have had some jitters along with Schwartz.
“Nothing really out of the ordinary. I kinda ran my route a little bit shorter than I should have,” Schwartz said. “Can’t really explain it, just kind of an overthrow. I’m not going to speak for Deshaun, but it was his first play in almost two years.”
As for the other two balls, Schwartz said, “It’s unexplainable, there’s no excuses for it, I just dropped the ball.”
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Schwartz has done a “great job” in practice bouncing back. Schwartz showed that on Tuesday, when he caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from backup Jacoby Brissett on a go route.
“He’s very accountable to himself and his teammates,” Stefanski said. “He’s excited to get back to work. The big thing for any of us when we drop a pass, make a bad call, whatever it is, you’ve got to move on. You can’t dwell on those type of things. I think he’s done a nice job moving on. Part of being a receiver is moving past those plays.”
Schwartz said he’s been able to “dump it onto the next one,” and also received advice on that from Cooper. Schwartz has also kept in touch with former Browns teammates Jarvis Landry, now with the New Orleans Saints, and Odell Beckham Jr., an unrestricted free agent rehabbing a torn ACL, and could contact them if needed.
“They’re going through enough. I don't want to be an extra bother to them,” Schwartz said of the two Pro Bowl receivers. “I’m sure if I reached out to them, they’ll respond and give me some words of encouragement.”
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In the 2021 draft, the Browns were excited to add Schwartz’s speed after he ran a 4.26 40-yard dash at Auburn’s pro day. But they saw little of that on the field. Schwartz suffered a hamstring injury in rookie minicamp and missed most of training camp and preseason.
Perceived as being to blame on the play when since-traded quarterback Baker Mayfield tore the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder in Week 2, Schwartz played in 14 games and caught 10 passes on 23 targets for 135 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed six times for 39 yards.
During organized team activities and minicamp, Schwartz was excited to be healthy, only to suffer the knee strain on July 28.
“I think it more set me back a little bit mentally than physically,” Schwartz said. “I had a good spring, coming back to camp I was excited to get back and get on the field, and then, ‘Boom,’ that happens and I was like, ‘Oh, crap.’
“Thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was originally and I was able to come back. Pretty much have to get back into the game mentally and get my wind back as well.”
Schwartz believes getting open is his strength, and he devoted time to that in the offseason.
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“Being able to run clean, smooth routes, being able to break off the top fast,” he said. “During OTAs and the last couple of days I’ve been able to do that and steadily improve that.
“Especially against the DBs that we have, some of the best in the business, so it’s great competition. If I can get open against these guys, I should be able to get open against anyone.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Browns Anthony Schwartz focuses on mental game