New Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton met with reporters today to discuss the outlook of the defense as it transitions from a 4-3 system to his attacking, 3-4, multi-front scheme and enters training camp, which will open to the public Thursday with the first full-squad practice running from 4-6:30 p.m.
Below are highlights from the interview with Horton.
How is rookie Barkevious Mingo, the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, adjusting to the NFL?
“I like where he’s at,” Horton said. “He’s probably on pace for where a rookie should be. I would question maybe, put a little caveat on that, he’s a guy who’s transitioning from a guy with his hand in the ground to standing up. He’s spent a lot of time working on the playbook and terminology. For him being ready for day one opening camp, I think he’s right where he should be.”
Do you like the weight Mingo is at right now, somewhere around 237 pounds?
“Was a defensive player in Pittsburgh too short to play?” Horton said. “Was a wide receiver in Arizona too slow to play the game? Was a quarterback down in New Orleans too short to play the game that came out of Purdue? On paper, yeah, but it’s played out here [on the field]. How fast is he? Can he drop? Can he catch? I want an athletic player that can get after the quarterback. I’m not going to say a thing to him about his weight. I’m going to say get off the ball, meaning go get the quarterback, go back, cover this guy. I’m not going to say a thing to him about his weight. I want a football player. Now whether he plays 235, 241, 239, I guarantee he’s going to lose weight out here tomorrow with all this heat.”
How is Jabaal Sheard doing in his transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker?
“Fantastic,” Horton said. “He was one of the surprises of OTAs and minicamp for me. He transitioned from left to right and now we’re playing him on both sides and everybody’s worried about, ‘Can he stand up? Can he do this? Can he do that?’ I think when you have good athletes they can do a lot. They just say, ‘Coach, use me, put me where you want.’ He’s really done a good job of absorbing the defense and playing both sides. He’s really going to be a versatile player where I can use him to move him around and use his skill to the best of his ability.”
How has Craig Robertson done in the early stages as the first-team inside linebacker next to D’Qwell Jackson?
“Pleasant surprise,” Horton said. “I wouldn't say a surprise. I would say he was what I had envisioned and hoped he would be -- a young, athletic backer, who is savvy. When I came here I wasn't sure how he would be on picking things up, but he's been everything I wanted. That's my little ace in the hole. We'll find out. He doesn't know that, but he'll get it early. There was just limited exposure on film and you hope, just hope, he's as athletic and smart as what he looked like on film. He's more instinctive, hungry player and sometimes [players] fall through the cracks.”
The Browns have three players – rookie Leon McFadden, Chris Owens and Buster Skrine – competing to become the starting cornerback opposite Joe Haden.
How does Horton view the cornerback competition?
“Good competition and good depth,” Horton said. “I hope we have a couple of starters penciled in, expectations, but there's always somebody's that's going to surprise you. There's going to be an injury somewhere. The more quality depth we have, the better we'll be. Right now, I have a little comfort zone in that we've got experienced corners that can play. Now, we want to be able to play more than one because I guarantee you teams will run three wide receivers at us, four wide receivers, and I keep preaching depth, quality depth, quality depth because of injuries, because of personnel matchups, so you can't have too many good football players.”
What is Horton’s early impression of McFadden, a third-round pick in this year’s draft?
“Leon, just like Mingo, is a young rookie,” Horton said. “Young rookie. Has a growing curve, a learning curve. I would like to play them as much as they will allow me to play them. Now what is that? That's up to them.”
The Browns have young, unproven players competing to start at free safety. Tashaun Gipson took all the reps with the first-team defense in spring practices, followed by Johnson Bademosi, who has never previously played the position.
“It’s a fluid position for me right now,” Horton said. “Johnson [Bademosi] is moving from corner to safety. He’ll be a nickel candidate. He’s one of those players that I’m talking about position flexibility. Can he do multiple things? He’s making good progress, not great progress, good progress of assimilating calls, responsibilities. We will find somewhere in our mix of young DBs some good young starters that they’re going to have to step up and prove that they can play very good winning NFL football, and that’s going to be a position of need, of expectation, of careful scrutiny of can we do it? Can the young guys handle it? That we’ll find out. I don’t have that answer yet. It’s a concern of ours that we have to find quality starters and depth there.”
Kerry Rhodes was Horton’s starting free safety last season with the Arizona Cardinals, and he’s a free agent. Would the Browns consider adding him?
“He is a NFL free agent,” Horton said. “I think you're always aware, as our scouting department does a great job of knowing who's available. Right now, we're committed to our roster. We talk about injuries, attrition and we make sure we have a backup plan. You have to have an avenue, and he's one of the players on the street right now. He is familiar with our system, so I think I would be naive or not forthright with you guys if I said, ‘Who?’ We're committed right now to the guys who will be out here tomorrow at practice.”
The Browns have 13 defensive linemen on the roster, which seems like a lot for a team that will use a three-man front in its base scheme.
“As we go in training camp, if I get the news clippings I’ll look, I’m sure someone will have a roster and a depth chart and the final team picked out,” Horton said. “Somebody out here will look at it and say, ‘Well, there’s going to be two of these and five of these and this and that.’ I keep preaching and the more we talk together you’ll hear me say, ‘Position flexibility.’ Now I already said, Buster [Skrine], can he play corner and can he play safety? Can Leon [McFadden] do that? Can [Barkevious] Mingo play down and up. Can [Ahtyba] Rubin play three and zero [techniques]. The more of those guys you have, the more maybe we want six defensive linemen. Maybe we want five defensive linemen. Maybe we want seven corners. Maybe we want three safeties. I don’t know the numbers, but I keep preaching, give me good quality players, and I’ll fit them in somewhere. So I don’t want to put anybody’s limit on, ‘Oh, we’re going to have two nose tackles and six tackles. We’re going to have five nose tackles, four corners.’ I just want good quality players.”
Where does rookie Armonty Bryant, a seventh-round pick in this year’s draft, fit in position wise? He doesn’t look like true 3-4 defensive end, so is he a rush specialist?
“How about project?” Horton said. “And we knew that. We need him to get a little bit more weight and he was a pick that sometimes you’re looking around the corner to say, ‘Can this guy get X amount of height, weight, girth? And he’s that kind of guy. He’s got speed, athletic ability, and it’s a process for him to get better and learn. And we’ll give him as much as he can handle and see if he can handle NFL double teams.”