Ray Horton vowed to transform the Browns’ defense into a versatile, attacking unit this morning during his introductory news conference.
Horton, who was hired Jan. 18 as the team’s new defensive coordinator, said last week during an interview with Arizona radio station XTRA Sports 910-AM that he would run a 3-4 defense in Cleveland. Browns coach Rob Chudzinski described it as a 3-4 multi-front defense today, and Horton emphasized the versatility of his system while resisting labels.
“We’re going to look like an aggressive, forward attacking defense that has big men that can run and little men that can hit, and I’ve seen that on tape,” Horton said. “That’s the most important thing to me – what do we look like, not what we line up in. We may be a 3-4 on one snap. We may be a 4-3 on another snap. I guarantee you we’ll be a 5-2 sometimes, and we’ll be a 4-4 sometimes. We are a multi-front, attacking defense, and that’s the most important thing, not what player lines up where, how he stands, what stance he’s in.”
Horton said he has studied the Browns’ roster and doesn’t envision a massive overhaul to fit his system.
“When you watch our defensive line, they get after the quarterback and they turn and run and make multiple plays downfield,” Horton said. “And then you see our little guys, who you know can run, but the thing that impresses you is they can hit.”
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said his vision for the defense meshes well with Horton’s philosophy.
“I’ve always felt that the 3-4, multi-front, multi-look defenses are the toughest ones to play against because they show multiple looks that you have to prepare for, they can create confusion in your blocking schemes and then also in the pass game as well,” Chudzinski said. “The flexibility that [those defenses] give in terms of the blitz packages that they can play and then just not knowing basically what they’re doing, they really attack the offense. I’ve used the word hybrid to describe that as a descriptive term for that style of defense as that defense has become more common and moving away from the traditional 3-4, single-front defense. That style of defense, the multi-front, attacking defense is the defense that I looked at is the toughest to play against from an offensive perspective and the defense that we want to be here as the Browns’ defense. As I looked at Ray and studied Ray for what he’s done at Arizona, it fits perfectly and meshes perfectly with the vision that I have for this defense, and that’s what this Browns defense will be.”
Horton believes his defense will be difficult for opponents to prepare for.
“I use the word multiple front,” Horton said. “Coach Rob uses hybrid. They’re the same term. They’re just different semantics of language. We are going to be a defense that gives offenses problems. Our guys can play a multitude of things. I don’t like to get pigeonholed into, ‘Well, he is this.’ Here’s what we’re going to be: We’re going to be a team that looks at the offense and tries to take away what they do best. Now that may mean one snap being a 5-2. The next snap it may be a 4-4. It will be predicated by what the offense does, and we have athletes that can stand up, that can put their hand in the ground, that can run. So that’s why I go back to the multi-front defense. I can’t tell you what we’re going to be right now. It depends on who we line up game one against. What do they do? What do we need to take away? The thing I’m most excited about is I have a group of athletes that can run and hit and they’re not limited to just saying, ‘Coach, line me up in a specific front, number system and play.’ Just run and hit.”
After spending the past two seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals, Horton interviewed earlier this month for the head-coaching vacancies of the Cardinals, Browns and Buffalo Bills. The Cardinals ultimately hired Bruce Arians, the Browns hired Chudzinski and the Bills hired Doug Marrone.
“I had hoped [to become a head coach], but you know it’s a process,” Horton said. “I didn’t make the saying, but you can only control what you can control. I can’t control that other than myself interviewing well.
“It’s really a reflection of your men, how they perform on the field for you. That’s really what my resume is. My resume is the players that we have on the field and how they perform. Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I excited to be here? I’m absolutely excited to be here.”
Fifteen key hires were made throughout the NFL in the last few weeks and none of the jobs went to minorities.
Horton was asked if he was disappointed for minorities.
“I wasn't disappointed at all for minorities,” Horton said. “I was disappointed for Ray Horton.”
Horton shared his thoughts on several Browns players. Below are some of them.
On whether defensive end Jabaal Sheard can play outside linebacker: “I would hope my answer would be, ‘Let's not put limits on what players can and cannot do.’ Jabaal is a guy that I have seen on film that can rush the quarterback and is athletic. What we are going to do as a coaching staff is put each one of our guys in the best position. I don't want to put limits or expectations on anybody other than I know that they can run and they can hit . . . I'm looking at the offense we are playing and what they do best and what can I do to take it away. He may be a strong safety some time, he can be a linebacker, he can be a D end. I want him to tell me what he can do best and not put a label on what he is.”
On cornerback Joe Haden: “Good hands, good feet, takes good keys, can play the ball and he'll tackle. So he fits into my little men that can hit and he can catch the ball, he can play the ball.”
On other cornerbacks: “From watching it, Sheldon Brown, still 11 years in, still plays at a good high level. Buster Skrine played well last year. Trevin Wade. There's a lot of good.”
On whether the Browns want to re-sign Brown: “Today was our first meeting as a staff at 8 o’clock today. We just started watching our first game as a staff. I’ve seen them. We’re still going through our evaluation process. I don’t know what Sheldon Brown wants. It’s one of those deals where a player’s a free agent, you can’t dictate what’s going to happen in the market. I’d like to have everybody back.”
On strong safety T.J. Ward: “What I see in T.J. is a player who is dynamic in the run game, a player that's going to get better because he's a smart player that will hit. I keep going back to it. He's a little man who will hit. That's what he is. He's a smaller guy, he's not a big man, but he will hit you. I'm excited for a chance to coach him and grow with him and understand what he does best. He will tell me what he does best by how he practices, how he plays and again it's limitless what we can do with players who can run and hit.”
On defensive lineman Billy Winn: “I’ve seen Billy quite a bit during the season and he came up with a fantastic interception where he was rushing, the ball was tipped and he came back and made a great diving catch and that goes back to my point of what these big men can do. They can all run and they’re athletic and so it just gives us the ability to move guys around where as coach Rob said when you prepare for somebody, that’s the hardest thing of where they going to be because we don’t know and it just gives me more flexibility. Maybe Billy’s inside, maybe Billy’s outside, maybe he’s dropping because he’s so athletic. And that’s what we’re talking about this defense. You can’t predict what we do because we are a multiple front, multiple coverage defense and I’ve got great flexibility because of the big men that can run.”
Chudzinski said linebacker Chris Gocong, who suffered a torn Achilles last summer, should be able to return for the start of the 2013 season.
“I would think ready for the season,” Chudzinski said. “Short of that, I'm not sure exactly what's going to happen.
“We're still going through the evaluation process as far as where he will fit. From a health standpoint, from my understanding from the reports I got, everything is on track. He's getting better. He's on track with his rehab. He's started running and doing some things. As far as a timetable as to when he's going to be ready, it's still a little premature for that, but everything is on target.”
Horton confirmed the Browns have hired former Detroit Lions assistant secondary coach Daron Roberts as their defensive quality control coach and former Carolina Panthers defensive assistant Bobby Babich as their assistant defensive backs coach. Horton also said the Browns will likely hire one more linebackers coach. … Chudzinski said quarterback Colt McCoy visited the team’s headquarters Monday in Berea to meet him in person. Chudzinski said he has also spoken to quarterback Brandon Weeden and McCoy on the phone. … Chudzinski said Horton’s predecessor, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron, was told before Monday that he would be let go. ESPN reported the Browns officially fired Jauron on Monday. “That was more of a contractual formality of how they turned it into the league,” Chudzinski said. “Dick’s been communicated that he could look, people could interview him, he’d have the ability to do that.”