1) Mitchell Schwartz takes external praise in stride
Mitchell Schwartz played well enough against the Broncos to limit one of the NFL's preeminent pass rushers, Von Miller, to a minimal statistical impact. Buoyed by that kind of performance, Schwartz vaulted up Pro Football Focus' rankings for right tackles and currently sits at No. 1.
That was news to Schwartz after Thursday's practice.
"It's obviously nice," Schwartz said. "With sites like that, it's hard to put a quantifiable grade on something like that."
Regardless of how the grade was determined, Browns coach Mike Pettine said he was "very pleased" with Schwartz's performance through the first six games of his fourth season. There's a reason why he hasn't missed a single snap since he landed with the Browns as a second-round pick.
"He's relentless in his preparation," Pettine said. "He does a good job in the meeting room, carries it over to the field. I know from the pecking order of what you would perceive as leaders in that room, you have Joe (Thomas) and Alex (Mack), but Mitch is right up there with those guys."
Schwartz said he hasn't changed a thing with his week-to-week preparation. He cited his experience, which has allowed him to face most of the NFL's top pass rushers at least once, as a reason why he continues to improve at an unforgiving and sometimes unpopular position.
A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Schwartz couldn't safely say his performance against the Broncos was his best of the season.
"You kind of just get into the mode week to week and evaluate your performance from there," Schwartz said. "You don't ever want to think, 'I've got this down.' You try to fix something else and the thing you think you've got down, that will be the thing that bites you next week."
Getting a close-up look at the action from our week six matchup against Denver.
2) Craig Robertson returns to practice
The Browns were happy to welcome back their "spark plug" to the practice field Thursday.
Linebacker Craig Robertson, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury since Cleveland's Week 3 loss to Oakland, returned in a limited capacity and participated in individual drills.
Robertson's status for Sunday's game at St. Louis is up in the air.
"Today will be a big indicator," Pettine said. "I would say Craig is probably closer than (Tashaun Gipson), but I wouldn't rule out either one of them."
Gipson, Joe Haden (concussion/finger) and Rob Housler (hamstring) did not practice Thursday.
Pettine said Robertson was playing at a high level before he went down with the injury. With Robertson out, Christian Kirksey has seen his snaps increase and Tank Carder has received more work with the defense.
"As we all know, Craig brings an energy, that genuine leadership that's not out there," Pettine said. "It's hard to do that when you are in sweats. He knows that, and I think that's a source of frustration for him as well."
3) The importance of Tramon Williams
The Browns could be without two Pro Bowl defensive backs for a second consecutive week Sunday. It's been more the norm than the exception for Cleveland's secondary, which has battled injuries since the start of training camp.
The one constant? Veteran cornerback Tramon Williams, who showed his versatility when he filled in for nickel back K'Waun Williams in Week 3 and 4 and has been tough against whomever he's guarded.
"He's having a very good season," defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said. "Some of the stuff we've asked him to do, play inside in the slot when K'Waun was hurt and play outside, that's a lot harder than it sounds to do because your mentality changes. You're getting different kind of routes. Guys instead of having a two-way go on you now have a three-way go, you're playing against different players.
"He's done an unbelievable job for us this year. I don't know where we'd be without Tramon."
4) Justin Gilbert continues to stack good days
Second-year defensive back Justin Gilbert's snaps have been limited on defense, but he garnered strong praise from O'Neil on Thursday.
"Justin right now out in practice has looked as good as he's been since he's been a part of this organization," O'Neil said. "He's definitely going in the right direction."
O'Neil said Gilbert is behind Pierre Desir in the pecking order at outside cornerback, "but that doesn't mean that that's set in stone." Gilbert missed a good portion of training camp with a hip flexor injury and fell behind the likes of Desir and Johnson Bademosi.
Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said Gilbert continues to get "better and better" on kick returns, a job he seized Week 4 at San Diego.
"I do think that when the ball is in his hands, he is a threat," Tabor said. "I am encouraged by which way his arrow is pointing."
5) Dome sweet dome for Travis Coons?
Sunday's game will provide Browns kicker Travis Coons with his first and only opportunity to kick without any concern about the weather.
Tabor said it won't have much of an effect on where he draws the line for Coons' range on potential long field goal attempts. That determination will be derived the same way Tabor always does it.
"I know what he puts out on tape, what he does each and every day in practice, but at the same time, I was a waterboy for my dad for a long time when he was a head high school football coach. I would go watch the players warm up. If they weren't on, sometimes you just have to say 'maybe it is not his day' or 'maybe it is his day and we can stretch him a little bit,'" Tabor said. "Pregame tells me a lot of things about which way we can go and how he is hitting the ball and you can kind of see the look in his eye. All of those things are factors of how far we can take him back in this dome."
Tabor said he would have felt comfortable with Coons attempting a field goal anywhere from 53 yards or closer during overtime of last week's game against Denver.
The rookie kicker is one of five in the league who has attempted at least 10 field goals and not missed a single one.