Nearly three months of planning, 10 weeks of offseason workouts, a month-long training camp and four preseason games have all boiled down to this Sunday as the Cleveland Browns get set for their regular-season opener against the Miami Dolphins at FirstEnergy Stadium.
And defensive coordinator Ray Horton is “anxious, nervous, excited, all rolled into one.”
“It’s that time of year where your body starts telling you it’s fall, it’s football season,” said Horton, a former defensive back with the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys. “It’s time to kick it off for real.
“I am very pleased, and I think the Cleveland Browns, from Mr. Haslam on down, have been excited about the attitude and the attention to detail that our young men have put forth. They’re very excited and have been very diligent in doing things the right way.”
“I’m excited to put our product out there for our fans,” Horton said. “I’ve been very excited about the fans’ support out in the community. Our defense will make no excuses. We’ll go out there and play the best ball that we can and try to contribute to a win.”
The philosophy of playing “the best ball” possible is a desire within Horton that was formed during his playing days with the Cowboys, where he learned the game from former Cowboys coach, Jimmy Johnson.
“I think players are a reflection of their coaches,” Horton said. “Jimmy had a psychology degree, if not on paper on the wall, he did in mentality. I did take some of that, how you push players to the limit, but also, pull back and know when to pull back. I think Jimmy could take you to the brink, and then, pull you back.
“We’re trying to build a lot of things here. It starts with a solid foundation. Coach (Rob Chudzinski is) always talking about a foundation, a base, and you’ve got to have something to build on. We’re trying to build a perennial, week-in and week-out, competitive, winning team.”
By learning how far to push his charges, Horton has also educated himself on how to challenge a group of men on the football field. Challenging his players to be at their best is something Horton has done since joining the coaching staff back in January.
“I’ve been stressing to our team that, ‘We will be as good as we can be,’ meaning, I’m going to challenge them to be as good as they can be,” Horton said. “How good is that? Yes, it can be (elite), but that is predicated by a team concept of when we go on the field. Is it after a turnover? Is it after a touchdown? Is it after a long return? It all works together. Can they be (elite)? Yes. Are we striving to be? Absolutely.”