BEREA: Defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi joined the Browns with the hiring of defensive coordinator Ray Horton in January.
It’s his third tour of duty with Horton, the most recent with the Arizona Cardinals where Cioffi served two seasons as defensive backs coach.
With Cioffi’s help, Horton elevated the Cardinals’ defense to one of the best in the NFL in several statistical categories, including leading the league in passer rating allowed. Cioffi’s defensive backs particularly stood out, leading the league in interception percentage.
They were also second in the league with 22 interceptions. As a defense, the Cardinals were near the top of many statistical categories.
Prior to joining the Browns, Cioffi was a defensive coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. The Beacon Journal caught up with him after the organized team activities (OTAs) on Thursday.
Q: Do you know what style, technique and attitude that you want this secondary to adopt just yet?
A: We’ve always been in the mind-set where we like to attack offenses. We don’t really want to sit in different things and let them dictate this to us. We want to play aggressive, be aggressive and attack them. It will be more of an attacking style. We’re going to be more aggressive.
Q: Even if you don’t have the personnel to do that?
A: There are ways you can do that with any type of personnel. We’ll scheme it the best way we see fit.
Q: Leon McFadden’s height has been scrutinized throughout his career. Will that be an obstacle as he transitions to the NFL and is he capable of being that second starting cornerback the team needs to go opposite Joe Haden?
A: There are things you can control and things you can’t control. We can’t control his height and we really liked the way he moved. We like his ball skills. We like his aggressiveness. We like the way he recognizes route combinations. We like, really, his movement and those are all qualities you need to have as a high-level NFL cornerback.
Q: How would you characterize your situation at the nickel back based on what you’ve seen from Buster Skrine and Chris Owens?
A: I think the guys have done a really good job of trying to digest exactly what we’ve tried to put in. We’ve actually put in basically the entire scheme in a three-week period. We have the advantage of coming back and installing it in minicamp and installing it again in training camp, so by the time it’s time to go they will have seen and heard this thing three or four times. So we’ll be getting repetition that way. I’m very pleased with what we’ve done so far. These guys have bought into the system and are trying to do things the way we want it done and they’re really buying into the techniques and teaching style we’ve presented to them.
Q: Skrine had it tough on the field. Is that something he’s been able to get over from what you’ve seen?
A: The defensive back position is very unique (laughing a little) and you really have to have a very short memory. We preach not giving up deep balls and not giving up big plays. At the end of the year, we always look back and look at what defenses lead the league in fewest big plays. Those defenses are usually the ones in the top ten. We also preach turnovers and we also preach takeaways, tackling and fundamentals. We’re just trying to teach him the system and the way that we want it done and trying to teach him some technique that will help him so he’s not always one-on-one with a guy or in positions that will make him fail. So far, it’s been pretty good. He’s had a really good approach to everything. He’s been working his [butt] off and I expect big things from him. The kid competes. He finishes better than anyone I’ve ever seen. He’s gotten his hands on a lot of balls in practice and he’s actually broken up plays where receivers have caught the ball and he was able to get his hand in.
Q: It’s a case of him being set up to succeed then?
A: Yes, it is. My job, just to be clear, I consider myself a teacher. My job is to put the guys in the best possible position to succeed. The way you do that is to put them in situations where they understand what you’re doing because if you understand something, then it’s simple. If you don’t understand it, then it becomes overbearing and becomes uncertain. When you understand the techniques and what we’re asking them to do then you can play fast and you can play physical because you can play confident. That’s when guys are successful.
Q: Tashaun Gipson has received all of the work at free safety with the first-team defense this offseason. What do you like about him and what has he done to separate himself thus far?
A: I like his attitude. His communication skills have been excellent thus far and he and T.J. [Ward] have done a good job of working together. He’s played college corner so it’s given us some versatility in matching guys in space, so we’ve liked what we’ve seen of him so far.
Q: What have you learned about Haden and T.J. Ward since you joined the team?
A: I really like what I’ve seen out of both of those guys. T.J. has come in and he’s become one of the leaders of the secondary — making calls, setting defenses for us. He’s showed up in spots, making plays. Really he’s been a leader in the classroom and on the field. Joe Haden has all the ability in the world to be a Pro Bowl corner. I was fortunate enough to coach guys like Leon Hall, Jonathan Joseph and Patrick Peterson. He really has that kind of skill set to be an elite corner in this league. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure he is that.
Q: Is the third time the charm for you and defensive coordinator Ray Horton after working together at Cincinnati and Arizona?
A: I hope so. We got it working pretty good in Arizona and we want to continue that and I feel this is a really good, young defense. Our front seven has done a great job. Our linebackers have done a great job. Our secondary is young, but they compete. I expect big things from this unit.
Q: What have you learned from him?
A: We’ve always kind of been on the same wavelength and we both have the same style and approach and that to me is just making sure the guys are doing the best they can and making sure the guys understand what you’re asking of them. Just being yourself, coaching different ways and making sure the best is getting to them.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at https://ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/browns.abj.