Ray Horton has big plans for the Browns defense.
The defensive coordinator, who returns to Cleveland after two seasons with the Tennessee Titans, said on Thursday he wants the unit to become a "suffocating, championship defense" after a disappointing campaign last year. Horton wants the Browns to pressure the quarterback. He wants them to tighten up in the red zone. He wants them to lock down opposing run games.
"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," Horton said. "We've got to improve. We have to improve."
For Horton and the Browns — who finished ninth in total defense and forced 29 turnovers under his watch two seasons ago — that also means tapping into unmined potential and getting the most out of star players.
"We want to be a very sound defense but very aggressive. We need everybody, every Cleveland Brown to do their job," Horton said. "It's as simple as that, to do your job. We understand what it takes."
And after finishing 27th in total defense (in part because of because of injuries to key players) last season, Horton isn't one for excuses.
"We didn't win enough games last year. We weren't in the top 10, 12, 14, 15 in defense last year. We didn't help the offense win enough games last year," Horton said when asked if he'd targeted areas in need of improvement. "All of those things come in, whether it is the red zone, whether it is turnovers. We have to get better. The thing I will preach to our team is we need to be a championship defense."
Indeed, from star cornerback and Pro Bowler Joe Haden to rookie defensive lineman Danny Shelton to linebacker Paul Kruger, Horton offered a vision for what the Browns defense might look like when operating to at its full potential. While Haden is already regarded as one of the league's best players and Kruger a veteran talent on the roster, Horton said Shelton — who the Browns picked in the first round of the NFL Draft last year — can be "a unique player for us."
"He's really, really bright, intelligent, very outgoing. He wants to do well. He wants to succeed. He wants to be part of a championship defense. We are going to try to give him every opportunity to do that," Horton said, adding he wants to keep Shelton on the field as much as possible. "He is going to be a big part of our plans."
Horton also spoke of the need to feature linebacker Barkevious Mingo, who was drafted by the Browns sixth-overall in 2013. Mingo is known for his quick feet and burst off the edge, but was limited last season.
"He is a tall, lean, fast young man. We have to utilize that," Horton said. "Now, what do we have on the table for him? Some things different than it's been in the past. Hopefully, he will come in and say, 'I embrace what you are trying to do with me, and I'll do whatever you ask me to do.' We have to do something to utilize his God-given ability."
Horton added he hopes Mingo — who played defensive end at LSU before transitioning to linebacker with the Browns — can have an impact coming off the edge as a pass rusher. "I see him hopefully as a play-making member of our defense," Horton said. "Where he will line up, I don't know yet. It depends on what he can handle for us."
Likewise, Horton also said he expects big things from Haden, whose was placed on season-ending injured reserve in December.
"Joe will be a vital part. He is one of our elite players who has to play better. I told him that. I said, 'Are you ready to go?' He said, 'Yes sir.' And I said, 'I'll see you on April 4,'" Horton said. "I love Joe's athletic ability. I love his leadership ability. As long as he is healthy, he will be on the field starting for us. I expect good things from Joe Haden."
When asked on Thursday about the prospect of having Haden, Kruger, Shelton, Mingo and safety Tashaun Gipson to work with next season, Horton nodded his head and smiled.
"If you give me the names that you mentioned," Horton said, "I'll be ready to go."