Warming up to Ray Horton and an attacking Browns defense
We admit to being a bit apprehensive when the news first broke that the Cleveland Browns intended to hire Ray Horton and his 3-4 defensive principles to be the team’s defensive coordinator.
But Horton’s introductory press conference, combined with some time to consider what he wants to do, has us starting to buy into what Horton is selling on defense.
“We are going to be a defense that gives offenses problems,” Horton said (and when was the last time anyone could say that about a Browns defense?). “Our guys can play a multitude of things. I don’t like to get pigeonholed into, ‘Well, he is this.’ Here’s what we’re going to be. We’re going to be a team that looks at the offense and tries to take away what they do best. Now, that may mean one snap being a 5-2. The next snap it may be a 4-4. It will be predicated by what the offense does and we have athletes that can stand up, that can put their hand in the ground and that can run. That’s why I go back to the multi-front defense.
“I can’t tell you what we’re going to be right now, it depends on who we line up game one against. What do they do? What do we need to take away? The thing I’m most excited about is I have a group of athletes that can run and hit and they’re not limited to just saying, ‘Coach, line me up in a specific front, number system and play.’ Just run and hit.”
If Horton really does go into this with an open mind, then the transition from the defense the Browns were running under former defensive coordinator Dick Jauron should go a lot smoother. Horton’s biggest task will be figuring out the best way to make the current players fit and not force them into roles they are not capable of filling.
It would be naive for anyone to think that there will not be any bumps along the way as everyone gets accustomed to doing things Horton’s way. But the fact that he has already reached out to some of the players and is encouraging them to speak up is a good sign that Horton is not coming to Cleveland thinking he has all the answers.
“I think that’s one of the things that I do well is I let the players tell me what to do because they will by how they play, how they react, what they do on the field, what they do in the meeting room,” Horton said. “I like to be malleable where I’m not so rigid that this is it, this is the only way to do it. You’ve got to be flexible and let your players tell you what they do best in the certain forms of how they tell you.
“I would hope the biggest transition is terminology because if I’m a nose tackle, I’m somewhere in the vicinity of the center. If I’m an end, I’m somewhere in the vicinity of the guard or the tackle. Now, whether you line up on the outside shade, head up or the inside shade, you’ve played football before.
“All I’m asking my players to do is trust us as a coaching staff that we’ll put them in great positions. So whether you’re a guard, center, tackle on offense or on defense whether you’re on the center, guard or tackle, it’s still football and I keep going back to my point, I’ve got big men that will run, little men that will hit. That’s all I need and it’s still football.”
Horton also comes across as a coach with a sense of what’s important. Prior to the start of training camp in 2011, Horton made a mistake while attempting a solo landing while training for his pilot’s license.
“How am I going to handle a player who makes a mistake?” Horton told USA Today in a story that summer about the landing. “Hopefully I’ll remember when I made a critical mistake. Football is not life and death like it can be in an airplane. So when someone busts a coverage in Cover 2 and it costs us a game, I’ll keep it in perspective.”
With former general manager Tom Heckert setting the Browns up well enough on offense that they don’t need to make any major additions for 2013, the Browns are in a good position with free agency (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie?) and the draft (Jarvis Jones? Bacarri Rambo? DaMontre Moore? Barkevious Mingo? When you need pass rushers and pass defenders, you have lots of options.) to start giving Horton the additional tools he needs to mold the Browns defense.
The biggest thing the Browns can do to make this transition a success is to just stick to the plan. Much has been made about how Horton’s defense will “mirror” Pittsburgh’s defense (a notion that Horton shot down at his press conference by saying, “I’m not sure what Pittsburgh is. I know what we will be”) but the best way to mirror Pittsburgh is to adopt their philosophy: identify the type of players that fit your system and draft those players, no matter who the coach is.
The Steelers have been successful because Dick LeBeau is a good defensive coordinator, but also because they never deviate from their system. You see the same thing with Baltimore, which has had a solid defense despite going through numerous defensive coordinators because general manager Ozzie Newsome has been the one constant and has always stuck to the plan.
If Horton is successful, there’s a real chance that he will be gone in a year or two to be a head coach somewhere. So, really, the success and growth of the team fall on owner Jimmy Haslam, CEO Joe Banner and coach Rob Chudzinski; they must decide what they want the Browns to be on both sides of the ball and stick to their convictions when it comes to drafting or signing free agents. (And grooming someone on the current staff to eventually replace Horton wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.)
That way, it doesn’t matter if they lose a coach along the way; it is the philosophy that is just as important as the coach.
And if they can pull of that trick, the Browns defense will truly be able to give opposing teams problems, rather than just causing problems for their own fans.
(Photo by ClevelandBrowns.com)
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