Horton wants aggressiveness, versatility

Posted Jul 23, 2013

BEREA, Ohio -- Defensive coordinator Ray Horton wants his players to be versatile and aggressive on the football field.

BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton has a simple philosophy when it comes to his coaching: install a system his players love, and one that opponents do not like to play against.

Since joining the Browns’ staff in January, Horton has switched the team back to a 3-4 defense, but with a little bit of a twist. Instead of strictly being a 3-4 defense, Horton plans on utilizing multiple fronts aimed at generating more pressure on and creating more confusion for opponents.

“The players like it; I like it,” Horton said. “What I’m hoping is the opponents don’t like it. And it’s a great time for us in training camp to experiment with a couple different things, moving guys, position flexibility, scheme flexibility. It’s a learning process for me as well as them.

“Statistically, if you go back and look at this style of defense we are employing here, we don’t want big plays. We don’t want scoring plays. We stress deep-to-shallow, technique, understanding what the opponent’s doing. That’s the No. 1 goal, to stop them from scoring. We’ve got to practice it. We’ve got to develop a mindset, and an understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish here. The No. 1 thing is get the ball back for our offense.”

While installing his base defense throughout the offseason program, organized team activities, and minicamp, Horton focused on finding hungry players willing to compete and push others to perform better.

“I keep preaching, ‘Give me good, quality players, and I’ll fit them in somewhere,’” Horton said. “I don’t want to be put anybody’s limit on this. I just want good, quality players.

“I would hope, 11 positions on defense battling for playing time, for starting time, for Pro Bowls, for back-ups, to make the team. I want the best 21, 22, however many Coach Rob (Chudzinski) gives me. I want competition. I want guys pushing D’Qwell (Jackson), saying, ‘Hey, D’Qwell, you may be the starter, but I’m going take your job. I’m going to push you for playing time.’ The more you have of that, the better you are.”

Part of analyzing whether players can be impactful is by seeing what they do on the field and paying more attention to what they have shown in those situations rather than following the measurables of height and weight.

Since the Browns drafted linebacker Barkevious Mingo with their first-round pick in April, the rookie and his coaches have fielded dozens of questions about his weight. Horton used linebacker James Harrison in Pittsburgh, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona and quarterback Drew Brees in New Orleans as examples of guys who prove that measurables are only part of the equation.

“Was a defensive player in Pittsburgh too short to play? Was a wide receiver in Arizona too slow to play the game? Was a quarterback down in New Orleans too short to play the game that came out of Purdue? On paper, yeah, but it’s played out here,” Horton said while pointing the field practice field. “How fast is (Mingo)? Can he drop? Can he catch? I want an athletic player that can get after the quarterback. I’m not going to say a thing to him about his weight. I’m going to say, ‘Get off the ball, go get the quarterback, get back and cover this guy.’ I want a football player.”

Second-year linebacker Craig Robertson is another one of those football players Horton has high hopes for in 2013. Robertson finished the 2012 season with 83 total tackles, the second-most on the team, and registered an interception of Michael Vick in his NFL debut against the Philadelphia Eagles last September.

“He’s what I envisioned, hoped he would be, a young, athletic ‘backer,” Horton said. “He’s savvy. When I came in, I wasn’t sure what his instincts were as far as picking up a new defense. He’s been everything I want. That’s my little ace in the hole. We’ll find out. He’ll get going forward early.

“I had just limited exposure on film, and you hope he’s athletic as I’ve seen on film. I hope he’s as smart as he looks to be on film, more instinctive. I think he’s a hungry, young player. Sometimes, they fall through the cracks. Sometimes, the NFL gets something that falls into them and they’re like, ‘Wow, we have a great player,’ because they work hard, they’re smart, all the intangibles. I hope Craig is that player.”


In each of his first two NFL seasons, linebacker Jabaal Sheard led the Browns in sacks, but that was as an edge-rushing defensive end that did not drop back into coverage often. With the switch back to a 3-4, Sheard was moved to outside linebacker, where Horton said he has been “fantastic” at handling the adjustment.

“He was one of the surprises of OTAs and minicamp for me,” Horton said of Sheard. “He transitioned from left to right, and now, we’re playing him on both sides. Everybody was worried about, can he stand up? Can he do this? Can he do that? When you have good athletes, they can do a lot, and they’re just saying, ‘Coach, use me. Put me where you want to.’ He’s really done a good job of absorbing the defense and playing both sides. He’s going to be a versatile player, where I can use his skill to the best of his ability.”

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