Ray Horton will never forget the first phone call he received after becoming the Cleveland Browns’ defensive coordinator on January 18, 2013.
It was from Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. And it was during the conversation that Horton realized he had something special in Jackson.
“I was impressed when the first phone call you get after you’re hired is from your leader and your captain, D’Qwell Jackson,” Horton said. “He said, ‘Coach, you tell us what to do and we’ll do it. We’re tired of losing.’ It gives you that clay to mold because they weren’t set in their ways. They weren’t rigid. They weren’t going to fight what we do, and he is unquestionably, the leader of this team. What he says goes here.
“That’s the first thing he told me: ‘We’re tired of losing.’ And I think they’re taking a sense of ownership and a sense of pride. It’s something that they want to show, statistically, that they are doing better. I think they want to show that it’s not just a fluke. It’s that we’re working hard to get better.”
An eight-year NFL veteran, Jackson has been on one winning team during his time with the Browns, and it is the drive to succeed that has him backing up that commitment he made to Horton back in January.
Rather than just saying he and his teammates are tired of losing, Jackson makes sure they leave no stones unturned when it comes to preparing for an upcoming opponent.
“He has Friday night player-only meetings,” Horton said. “They go over film, pizza night, the whole bit. He’s really instrumental in changing the culture here with us. This is what it takes to be a championship-caliber defense, and he’s been, really, an extra coach on the field for me.
“Friday afternoon, as soon as we get off the practice field, the defense goes in and he runs the meeting. There’s no coaches, and they talk about what’s important to them. He also has get-togethers at his house. It’s one of those team things where they’re bonding.”
To Horton, Jackson’s meetings are an example of the players showing their dedication to winning.
“It’s one of these ownership things where they feel empowered that they can have their own meetings, run things and suggest things and draw up plays,” Horton said. “They’ve really bought into our system, and we’re having success, so I think they see the system works. When they get to have input into plays, not only what we call, but them designing plays for us, it feels like it’s their team.”
And with it being “their team,” the Browns’ defense would not have any other leader but Jackson running their side of the football.
“DQ is a great leader,” Browns safety T.J. Ward said. “He makes the defense move. He’s the heart and soul of our defense. What he says goes. If you follow him, you know you’re following someone that’s going to do everything right and he’s going to give his heart and soul on the field. That’s what you want from a leader. I think his mentality is shaping the rest of the defense.”