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Happy to be back, Ray Horton aims to revitalize Browns defense

In his first season with the Browns, it didn't take long for Ray Horton to fall for Cleveland and for its fans to reciprocate the feeling.

"When I was up here the first time, I really fell in love with the fans and the city," Horton said Thursday in his first press conference since reuniting with the team last month.

So perhaps it's not a surprise those good vibes flowed all the way to Nashville, where Horton — who was the Browns defensive coordinator in 2013 before accepting the same role with the Tennessee Titans — was approached by a fan at the airport last season during the bye week.

"There was a Cleveland supporter fan coming through. He goes, 'What are you doing here?' I said, 'I'm just taking a little vacation. He goes, 'We miss you up there,'" Horton said, smiling. "I really had a great love affair with the fans and the people of Cleveland, and I'm really excited to be back."

For Horton — who spent the last two seasons as the Titans defensive coordinator — the return to Cleveland and head coach Hue Jackson's staff is something of a homecoming.

"I really have fallen in love with the city and the people and a chance to come back. A lot of times people say they can go where they want to go. I could have stayed where I wanted to stay or I could have gone where I wanted to go," Horton said.

"It's easy to say the people have treated me outstanding up here. That says a lot. It really does. It says a lot about the people. When you come in, it is hard to grasp that, but I love how the people have treated me here."

Indeed, Horton gave Browns fans a bevy of reasons to be excited. Under his watch two seasons ago, the Cleveland defense was one of the league's best at times. The Browns ranked ninth in total defense (their best finish since 1994), held opposing offenses to 3.9 yards a carry, and amassed 40 sacks (the most since 2001). And as a byproduct of that success, star cornerback Joe Haden received his first Pro Bowl nod.

Horton is now tasked with recapturing similar success following a trying season for the Browns defense in which they finished 27th in the league in total defense and 30th against the run.

"We've got a lot of work to do. I'm excited. The guys last year as we watched film on the guys, they played hard. They really did. We've got to improve — we have to improve," Horton said. "We've got to find a way to become a suffocating, championship defense. That's what we're trying to do."

On Thursday, he offered the beginnings of a blueprint.

"We're going to try to pressure the quarterback," he said. "As Coach Hue has mentioned more than once, we want to be suffocating. When we are in this division on the defensive side of the ball, you have to be. This is a tough, big-man division. You better be ready to play football on Sunday or you're going to be embarrassed."

Added Horton: "There are a lot of moving pieces and we will be fluid, but whichever 53 (players) we end up with, we are going to make a heck of a run at winning games and winning our division.

"Now, are we going to win our division this year? I don't know if we are or not, but we are going to give them hell."

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