When Ray Horton was introduced as the new defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns in January, he emphasized the importance of having “big men that can run and little men that can hit.”
The Browns kept that and depth in mind when adding to the front seven with this week’s free-agent signings of linebackers
Horton said he and the team were “blessed” to add to the depth on the defensive front.
“I think if we keep building the defense the way we are, it’s like that pyramid system where you keep stacking blocks on top and you get to the top and you’ve got that pinnacle of players or player that’s your leader,” Horton said. “One of those guys is D’Qwell (Jackson), and I think bringing Paul Kruger in, that’s another where he’s been there and done that. That adds instant credibility in the locker room, on the field, for the opponents that the Cleveland Browns are going to get quality, good football players.”
Kruger came to the Browns after spending the first four years of his NFL career with the Baltimore Ravens. He registered a team-best nine sacks during the 2012 regular season and added another 4.5 in the postseason, including two in a Super Bowl XLVII victory over the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans on Feb. 3.
“Paul Kruger, coming off of a Super Bowl, one of the leaders of Baltimore’s defense in kind of the same style we play here, tenacious,” Horton said. “He had 13.5 sacks this year, is just a fantastic leader, character player. I’m excited about him.”
After playing multiple positions along the defensive line with the Oakland Raiders, Bryant adds depth and versatility to the Browns’ first line of defense.
“Bryant (is) a D-lineman with just a relentless motor,” said Horton. “He’s a big, strong, fast kid from Harvard. He’s a guy that upgrades our depth and gives us great balance up there. He’ll be on the field all three downs for us.”
Adding Groves was a double bonus for Horton.
A second-round pick of Jacksonville in the 2008 NFL Draft, Groves made 29 starts in 79 career games and made 152 total tackles and collected 6.5 quarterback sacks with the Jaguars, Raiders and Arizona Cardinals.
Under Horton’s guidance in Arizona in 2012, Groves made seven starts and set career-bests for tackles (45) and sacks (four). The Cardinals led the league in passer rating allowed and interception percentage and finished in the top five in several other defensive categories, including second in interceptions and third-down efficiency, third in red zone defense and fourth in takeaways.
“Quentin was there with me the last year and is just a quality guy,” Horton said. “He’s a great special-teams player. He’s going to give us great depth. He knows the system. We really picked up three quality players that are going to play a lot of snaps for us.
“It always helps when you know you’re getting good men, good players, good leaders. You’re looking for that combination, and so, for me, it gives me a little comfort where if a player has a question, sometimes, players don’t want to ask coaches because they want the coach to assume they know everything. It’ll help a little bit with Quentin where a young guy may come to him and go, ‘What did he mean by X, Y, and Z?’ and he’ll be able to say, ‘Oh, it’s this.’ It gives you a little bit of that comfort. If something’s going some way, he can vouch a little bit, ‘This is a good system; this works. Just trust him.’”
Horton said he was “one of those guys” who believed the team was already deep along the defensive line with incumbents
“I can’t tell you how excited I am about having the men that we have up front,” Horton said. “One of the first things that jumped out on film when I looked was how these guys run to the ball. They’re all big, strong, tough guys that love football, run to the football, and boy, I’m excited. Everybody, in my opinion, can play football and you can roll guys through. I don’t think we’ll see a drop-off in the talent level. I know you won’t see a drop in effort.”