Horton likes deep core of vets

Posted Mar 18, 2013

In a exclusive, Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton talks about the core of veteran players the Browns had on their roster when he arrived two months ago.

When Ray Horton became the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns in January, he quickly got to work on building a playbook, and then, focused on evaluating the players that were on the roster or would be available in free agency.

After studying videotape of his own players, Horton realized he had talent to build around when switching the team back to a 3-4 defense, and that process started with middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.

“He’s the first player that called me when I was hired,” Horton said of Jackson. “He said, ‘Hey, anything I can do, anything you need me to do, I’ll do it. I’ll be there,’ and that spoke volumes that he would reach out to me.”

Jackson is one of the Browns’ most experienced defenders when it comes to working within a 3-4 defensive front.

In each of his first three seasons, Jackson registered at least 100 total tackles as an inside linebacker in head coach Romeo Crennel’s defense. During the 2008 season, Jackson made a league-leading 188 total tackles and registered two sacks for 10.5 lost yards, as well as a career-best three interceptions.

During his career, Jackson has made 468 total tackles, registered three sacks and four interceptions, forced one fumble and recovered another in a 3-4 defense.

“On film, that’s what you see,” Horton said. “You see a fantastic football player that makes plays all over the field. Every player and person that I’ve talked to about D’Qwell, it’s all high-character things that they say. On and off the field, he’s the leader of the team. He takes guys under his wing. He’s what you want for a captain and the leader of your defense. He’s an extension of the coaching staff and management.”

In addition to Jackson, defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin is another Brown with experience in the 3-4. Rubin registered a then-career-best 82 total tackles, 57 solo stops, two sacks and one interception under the direction of Rob Ryan in a 3-4 defense in 2010.

“I think he’s going to be fantastic because when I looked at the team, he was one of those guys I saw running all up and down the field,” Horton said of Rubin. “He’s a big, strong, powerful man that is going to make this defense better. When you look at him, and Phil (Taylor), you’ve got Desmond (Bryant), then you’ve got Billy Winn, Paul (Kruger) and Jabaal (Sheard), those are some big names and some big men that can run. What I now see is we’ve got a fantastic front seven that it doesn’t matter who we have in the game. (We’re) blessed to have big men that can run and that look like they love to play the game.”

In his own words, Horton’s main mission as the Browns’ defensive coordinator is to create pressure and put his players in position “to hit the quarterback,” and third-year professional Jabaal Sheard is one of the men he will look to for that.

Sheard led the Browns in sacks in each of his first two NFL seasons. After posting the second-most sacks ever by a Browns rookie with 8.5 in 2011, Sheard registered seven for 55.0 lost yards last fall. He finished 2012 with four sacks in the last four games, and equaled a single-game personal best with two against Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the regular-season finale.

Sheard, who played at the University of Pittsburgh at the same time Horton was with the Steelers, was a defensive end for the Browns in a 4-3 and is expected to switch to an outside linebacker in the 3-4.

“He will be a rusher for us, meaning what he did last year,” Horton said. “The way the offense is attacking, a high percentage of the time, they’re in sub-package. He’ll be doing the exact same thing he did last year a high percentage of the time.

“We get Paul and Jabaal and we get Desmond. I can be very creative in what we run and moving guys around. It’s coming to fruition. The head coach talked about a hybrid package and we’ve got a bunch of athletes that can do a bunch of different things. Whether he’s an outside linebacker or defensive end, whether he’s going to be the middle, a D-tackle, I can get creative now because we have a ton of talent. It’s going to be interesting to see how we use these guys.”

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