Nearly one month after he was named the Browns’ new defensive coordinator and returned to the same city his NFL career began three decades ago, Jim Schwartz is still adjusting to living back in Cleveland.
"I'm getting used to the trains again, getting used to the cloudy and the rain," Schwartz said Thursday on Cleveland Browns Daily. "I haven't really gone past the airport and the office — I've been trying to catch up on a lot of things and get ourselves in position."
Schwartz's daily to-do list has been as busy as one might expect for a new defensive coordinator. From reviewing film of each player from last year to sitting with head coach Kevin Stefanski and Executive Vice President and GM Andrew Berry to discuss ways to improve the roster, Schwartz hasn't wasted time in building his plan for how he wants to improve his group in 2023.
The defense will certainly look different than it did last season, when it struggled to stay consistent partially due to struggles against the run. Schwartz, who started working in the NFL in 1993 as a personnel scout for the Browns, has coached several defenses who excelled stopping the run and found success in pressuring the quarterback, which was another area the Browns also showed weakness — aside from 16 sacks from Myles Garrett, no Browns defender totaled more than three sacks last season.
It's clear that the top defensive improvements will need to come from up front, which is where Schwartz has proven to be sharp in not only finding talent, but maximizing their strengths.
Albert Haynesworth, Ndamukong Suh, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Fletcher Cox are all a few defensive tackles who built Pro Bowl seasons under Schwartz's tutelage. His defensive line schemes, which have looked similar to a "Wide 9" technique, allow for edge rushers to play a little further from the line of scrimmage so they have more space — and freedom — to attack the backfield.
With good edge rushers, that means the quarterback is more likely to face pressure. It also can squeeze an offense's run game more toward the middle of the defense and lead to a defense controlling the tempo of the game rather than the opponent.
"I like to call it an 'attack defense,'" Schwartz said. "We're not a 'read' team up front. We're an 'attack' team. We're going to be disruptive. We're hitting spots. It's probably not as wide as it used to be, but it's pretty simple in theory.
"It allows the players to play fast and puts them in the best position to rush the quarterback and play the run in between."
But the Browns need the right players to do it, and that's where Schwartz's work will be most intriguing this offseason.
The Browns will likely be searching for upgrades across their front seven and look to find players who will fit what Schwartz has in mind. The challenge, of course, will be finding the upgrades without a first-round pick, but Schwartz is confident the right guys can still be found via other avenues.
"There are certain skill sets we look for and a little bit of play style that maybe other people might not appreciate as much," Schwartz said. "They might use the person a little bit differently, and something that's sort of involved in that scheme is that we can get guys going pretty quickly.
"I think that if we all work together, we can find some productive players regardless of (if they're in) the first round, or as a high-priced free agent or anything else."
Schwartz made sure to note that much of the defensive line scheme will still be about finding favorable matchups for Garrett, who Schwartz called a "freak show."
In fact, Schwartz has given himself a constant reminder in his office about how important that task is.
"I have a little spot on my wall in my office that says, 'Anything that gets Myles Garrett one-on-one is a good scheme,'" he said. "If we can get our best players in one-on-one and create matchups for those guys, we'll be in a pretty good place, particularly with guys like Myles."
But as the results of last year suggest, the Browns will need more production outside of Garrett to build the improved defense they're looking for, and it'll take more than just a new defensive coordinator to uncover it.
That's why much of Schwartz's last month has been spent at 76 Lou Groza Ave. more than anywhere else.
"There's a lot of hats to wear this time of year," he said. "That clock's ticking."