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In time of fluidity, Ray Horton ready to shape identity of 2016 Browns defense

A question about the Browns' red zone defense sent Ray Horton down a path that allowed him to sum up where he stands entering March.

"Everything that we do is dictated by our players," Horton said. "Who do you have? What do they do best? Our roster will change with free agency, plus and minus, meaning we may lose somebody, we may gain somebody, and with the draft.

"As we sit here now, we are going to be a fluid team."

That fluidity began last month and will pick up some steam in the coming days with the beginning of free agency. It will ramp up even more when the Browns add a slew of players to the roster through the draft and acquisition of undrafted free agents.

Starting April 4, when offseason workouts begin, Horton will mold who stands in front of him, shaping the identity of the group he'll lead onto the field in September. He'll adjust as players are added and subtracted to the roster.

"We want guys who are going to be in the huddle with us," Horton said. "Meaning our kind of guys – guys who are going to be aggressive, guys who are going to run, guys who are going to hit and do what we want them to do and go play football. It will be changing."

"Am I a miracle worker? I am not. Are we going to bust our butts to be better? Absolutely. Do I think we are going to be better? I think we are. I expect it. I am going to demand it."

When players return for offseason workouts next month, they'll be introduced to a defense that is similar in philosophy -- Cleveland has run a 3-4 since Horton's first stint in 2013 -- but likely different in terminology. Horton has been in the league as a player and coach for more than 30 years, and he's been a coordinator since 2011. His ability to evolve while remaining true to his core principles has allowed him to maintain a position held by just 32 and coveted by many more.

He reiterated a phrase he used numerous times during his first stint in Cleveland. This aspect of the game, Horton believes, hasn't changed a bit.

"If our big guys will run for us and our little guys will hit, we'll be OK," Horton said. "We have a lot of work to do. We are not there. We are not close, but I like the effort of our guys.

"We are going to be a 3-4. We are going to be a four-man [front]. We want Danny (Shelton) on the field, and we will have some new players in. I am excited because the players that were here when I was here worked hard, played hard for us and had some success. That's what we want."

Part of Horton's early work with the Browns will focus on fundamentals. He emphasized that aspect when he was asked about Cleveland's performance against the run in each of the past two seasons. The Browns finished last in the NFL against the run in 2014 and 30th this past season.

The Browns won't be able to put on pads until training camp in July, but work in the classroom will be pivotal throughout offseason workouts and OTAs as they look to fare much better against the run. Horton stressed it will take absolutely every member of the defense, coaches included, to upgrade this weakness.

"We want to be a very sound defense but very aggressive," Horton said. "Every guy will have a job. I'm talking to the coaches, too. We need everybody, every Cleveland Brown to do their job. It's as simple as that, to do your job. We understand what it takes. We as coaches have to get our players to do their job. Is your job going to be a dirty job sometimes? Yeah, it is. Is your job going to be to win the game sometimes when it is called? Yes, it is. We need you to do your job."

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