BEREA: Ray Horton’s explanation of the system he’ll run as the Browns’ defensive coordinator sounded different Tuesday during his introductory news conference than it did last week in his interview with an Arizona radio station.
On Thursday, Horton told XTRA Sports 910-AM he’ll use a 3-4 defense in Cleveland that will mirror the scheme of the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Tuesday, Horton backtracked from those comments, blamed semantics and resisted labeling the Browns’ new scheme altogether.
The change-up seems fitting for discussions about a defense Horton promises will give offenses headaches by featuring different alignments.
“We are going to be a defense that gives offenses problems,” Horton said. “Our guys can play a multitude of things. I don’t like to get pigeonholed into, ‘Well, he is this.’ We’re going to be a team that looks at the offense and tries to take away what they do best. That may mean one snap being 5-2, the next snap it may be 4-4. It will be predicated by what the offense does. We have athletes that can stand up, that can put their hand in the ground, that can run.”
The bottom line is coach Rob Chudzinski said the Browns will employ a 3-4, multi-front, multi-look defense. Chudzinski calls it a hybrid. Horton does not.
Either way, Horton knows what he expects from the unit he’ll command. He insisted about a half-dozen times that he wants big guys who can run and little guys who can hit, and that he believes the Browns already have “the perfect mix” of that on their roster.
“I don’t really care what we are on defense,” Horton said. “I want to know what are we going to look like. 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.
“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, 52, spent the past two seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals. He also served as a defensive backs coach for the Steelers from 2004-10. During his time with the Cardinals, he ran a 3-4, blitz-heavy system similar to the one used by his mentor, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
The Browns used a 4-3 defense the past two seasons under the guidance of Horton’s predecessor, Dick Jauron. Former General Manager Tom Heckert revamped the roster to fit Jauron’s scheme, but Horton doesn’t believe a drastic overhaul is needed to adjust.
“I love this team,” Horton said. “I love the way it’s constituted right now because they give effort. I saw the first game against Philadelphia all the way through to the last game against Pittsburgh, and I don’t see a drop-off of effort. If you can give me that for 16 weeks like they did, you don’t need anything else.”
Chudzinski doesn’t envision radical changes, either.
“We felt from the very beginning that these players had some flexibility,” Chudzinski said. “If you’re a good football player, you’re a good football player. I don’t think that the scheme is so different that good football players don’t fit and won’t be able to play in this scheme.
“We will coach some things differently and some techniques may be different. There will be some of that. But as far as it being just a huge change where a guy is doing something completely different than he’s ever done before, it’s probably not going to be that.”
Horton has already talked to some of the defense’s leaders. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson called him not long after he was hired Jan. 18.
“I have to establish something, which is trust and that’s all I want them to do,” Horton said. “I don’t want them to do anything but just trust me, that I have their best interest and the Cleveland Browns’ best interest in mind. It’s important to reach out and let them know that you are excited about them, and I’m sure they have some apprehension about, ‘Who is this guy? What’s he going to do? What’s that mean to me?’ I just keep going back to as long as you do your job well, nobody has an issue.”
If Horton does his job well, he’ll be able to help the players learn new terminology and improve despite another transition from one scheme to another.
Horton interviewed for three head-coaching jobs this offseason — the Browns, Cardinals and Buffalo Bills — and conceded he’s disappointed he didn’t get any of them. But he also said he’s eager to make the most of his opportunity as the leader of the Browns’ defense, which ranked 23rd (363.8) in the NFL last year and 10th (332.4) in 2011.
The Cardinals’ defense ranked 12th in 2012 (337.8 yards allowed per game) and tied for 18th in 2011 (355.1). The Cardinals also ranked second last year with 22 interceptions, and Horton is convinced it’s because he catered to his players’ strengths. He vowed to do the same with the Browns.
“I let the players tell me what to do because they will by how they play, how they react, what they do on the field, what they do in the meeting room,” Horton said. “I like to be malleable where I’m not so rigid that, ‘This is it. This is the only way to do it.’ You’ve got to be flexible and let your players tell you what they do best in certain forms of how they tell you.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.