Earlier this year, Browns coach Hue Jackson was willing to tell anybody who'd listen that second-year linebacker Joe Schobert was on the cusp of a big season.
"He looks like a big-time linebacker," Jackson said in September. "I think the sky's the limit for him if he can keep growing and keep getting better within this system."
That assessment proved to be correct as Schobert, a fourth-round pick in 2016, was named a Pro Bowl alternate Tuesday night, joining left guard and fellow alternate Joel Bitonio as the team's lone representatives in the league's all-star game.
"It feels good. Obviously, it means I'm doing something right and doing things the right way," Schobert said Thursday. "I have a lot to work on and a lot to improve at. But I think it means that I'm on the right track."
Schobert, the former Wisconsin standout and Big Ten Linebacker of the Year, leads the Browns with 127 tackles in 14 starts. He also has 2.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception. After playing mostly special teams as a rookie, Schobert lost weight, moved to middle linebacker in offseason workouts and earned the starting job midway through training camp.
"I think Schobs has done some good things, I've said that all year. I've been really impressed from where he has come from to where he is today," Jackson said. "That is a lot of hard work, dedication. I think he's changed his body. Obviously he's made some consistent plays for us. But again, that's what we expect from Joe."
While the Browns' focus remains on capturing their first win of the season, Jackson — who praised Bitonio on Wednesday — pointed to Schobert's contributions as a team-first award. The linebacker has played a key role in a Browns run defense, which ranks seventh in yards allowed per game.
"Coaches, everybody, has a hand in that. But he's done the most work. He is being recognized for it. But I think the unit, the coaches have done a great job," he said. "As I've said before, our middle linebackers are important. Everything is kind of funneled in that direction and he has to make those plays. Joe has been recognized for making those plays. That's a heck of an accomplishment for him but also for the defensive players and staff."
Schobert, asked if he believed his play was like that of other Pro Bowl linebackers, said he's still out to prove he belongs.
"Coming into the NFL and going into college and it's like, as a kid, you obviously think that high school players are so good. You get there and then college players are so good. Then you get there and belong and think NFL players are so good. So that is just like the next step," he said.
"You get to the NFL. Last year, I was running around and playing football and thinking, 'yeah I belong in the NFL.' So you just don't think you are the elite of the elite. So hopefully going into the Pro Bowl will be a similar experience and go in and recognize that 'Yeah, I belong here.'"