A few weeks ago, Joe Schobert found himself as the Browns' lone representative at the Pro Bowl in Orlando. He also found himself somewhat in awe at some of the players around him.
For starters, Schobert, Cleveland's second-year middle linebacker who led the team in tackles, could hardly believe he'd made the league's annual all-star game. "I wasn't expecting it at all, I didn't plan on it," he said. "I didn't think I'd have any recognition like that."
Making matters more surreal was the opportunity to share the spotlight with longtime superstars whom he looked up to while growing up in Wisconsin.
"You're out here for 45 minutes, walking around, jogging around and you're around all these Pro Bowlers who have been in the league for a long time," Schobert said.
To illustrate that point, he pointed to Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who was making his seventh trip to the Pro Bowl. "I was sitting next to him on the bus the other day asking him about how he's been and how he keeps playing," Schobert said. "I was 9 years old when he came into the NFL. It's just unreal to be on the same field with guys like this, just trying to learn as much as I can."
Schobert, a former fourth-round pick who mostly contributed on special teams as a rookie, was also struck by the chance to meet up with Broncos All-Pro linebacker Von Miller. He said he wore No. 58 at Wisconsin in an effort to pay homage to Miller, the league's Super Bowl MVP two years ago. "I play the same position, looked up to him and tried to emulate him in my game," said Schobert, who was the Big Ten's Linebacker of the Year that same season.
"It's just cool, his locker is three down from mine right now and I was able to talk to him, get to know him … It's awesome to treat (these guys) as your peers instead of looking up to them when you're growing up trying to get to this level."
Schobert, whose 144 tackles tied for the second-most by any player this past season, hopes he'll have that feeling for a long time. He's also confident that, after Cleveland's first winless season in 2017, the Browns are still set to send off multiple players to future Pro Bowls.
"The only way to go is up. I was telling some of the coaches I was talking to earlier, the locker room isn't — you wouldn't think the locker room is 0-16 the way guys come about and do their job and get excited and get ready to play," he said. "Everybody is invested in the team and that attitude is going to be great going into next season."