BEREA — Start printing the T-shirts.
Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton arrived with a catchy slogan easy to remember – and repeat. During his introductory news conference Tuesday, Horton found several occasions to fit it into the conversation.
“You need big men who can run and little men who can hit,” he said.
Horton said he spotted plenty of both when watching film of the Browns. He isn’t concerned the young roster spent the last two years in coordinator Dick Jauron’s conservative 4-3 scheme, while he plans to run an attacking, multiple-front system that will use the 3-4 as its base.
“We have athletes that can stand up, that can put their hand in the ground, that can run, so that’s why I go back to the multifront defense,” Horton said. “I’ve got the perfect mix here of big guys that can run and little guys that will hit.”
Horton told an Arizona radio station Thursday he would run the 3-4 scheme he used the last two seasons as Cardinals coordinator, which happens to be the same one perfected and still used by mentor and Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau. Horton scoffed at running a “hybrid” system, which had been suggested by his boss, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski.
After meeting with Chudzinski, Horton had a new description Tuesday for the defense he’ll install. He will use a variety of fronts – 3-4, 4-3, 5-2, 4-4 – depending on the opposing offense.
“I use the word multiple front. Coach Rob uses the word hybrid,” Horton said. “We’re saying the same thing. We are going to be a defense that gives offenses problems.
“We’re going to look like an aggressive, forward-attacking defense.”
Chudzinski favors that approach because he always found the 3-4 defenses that changed fronts and presented different looks to be the toughest to beat as an offensive play caller.
“They show multiple looks that you have to prepare for, they can create confusion in your blocking schemes and then also in the pass game,” he said.
The issue of scheme matters because former general manager Tom Heckert spent the last two years drafting and signing players to fit the 4-3. He built a formidable and deep defensive line that would be less valuable in a strict 3-4 system.
There are also questions of whether end Jabaal Sheard could convert to 3-4 outside linebacker, if Phil Taylor would be effective as a 3-4 nose tackle and if a true 3-4 maximizes the strengths of middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. Horton promised to adapt to the talent he’s given.
“I don’t want to put limits or expectations on anybody other than I know that they can run and they can hit,” he said. “You’ve got to be flexible and let your players tell you what they do best in certain forms of how they tell you.
“All I’m asking my players to do is trust us as a coaching staff that we will put them in great positions.”
If Horton’s able to maximize the talent on hand, the transition should be smoother than feared. He said the most difficult adjustment for players will be learning his terminology. They also must adapt to the variety of schemes and attacking approach, which includes a variety and abundance of blitzes.
“I think when you put pressure on the quarterback everybody gets better,” he said. “You get more sacks. You get more turnovers.”
“I mention the word innovative. His pressure packages are outstanding,” Chudzinski said. “He brings ’em from all over the place, different guys, but he’s still sound in his schemes.”
Chudzinski declared his intentions to have an attacking offense and defense when he was hired, so Horton’s a fit. Chudzinski said he always had Horton on his list of coordinator candidates, but didn’t have a relationship with him until he called to interview him.
Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner helped facilitate a connection after interviewing Horton for the head coaching job. Horton also interviewed for the head jobs in Arizona and Buffalo but wasn’t offered them.
“Am I disappointed? Yes,” he said. “Am I excited to be here? I’m absolutely excited and I think as you go through that process there’s a great learning experience for myself and hopefully Mr. Haslam and Mr. Banner. So I think it’s important you do go through the process because it opens up avenues and the ability to get yourself in front of some owners, some GMs, some CEOs that go, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize this person was that.’”
Of the eight head coaching and seven general manager vacancies, none was filled by a minority.
“I wasn’t disappointed at all for minorities. I was disappointed for Ray Horton,” Horton said. “I can’t speak for anybody but myself. That’s another label. I’m not one to put labels on people.
“I respect the process. The process this year appeared to be offensive-minded coaches for the most part. That’s what the ownership wants. You can’t control what they want.”
Horton was asked about the effectiveness of the Rooney Rule, which requires each team with a head coach or GM vacancy to interview a minority candidate.
“I think it worked because I think every NFL team this year hired a guy that they thought was going to lead them to victory,” he said.
Horton, 52, brings an enthusiasm that’s obvious, and hopefully contagious. Fiery is a common description.
“He’s very competitive,” Chudzinski said. “He’s an outstanding communicator, excellent with the players, builds relationships with those guys, can convey what he needs to from a defensive standpoint and get those guys to play. You can always turn the tape on and see the measure of a coach.”
- Chudzinski continued to fill his staff. Bobby Babich was hired as assistant defensive backs coach and Daron Roberts as defensive quality control coach. Shawn Mennenga (special teams assistant) will be retained from last year’s staff and continue to work with coordinator Chris Tabor, who was also kept. Babich spent the past two seasons with the Carolina Panthers as a defensive assistant (2012) and administrative assistant for the coaching staff (2011). Roberts has been an NFL and college assistant for the past six years. He has a law degree from Harvard and was student body president at the University of Texas.
- Chudzinski said linebacker Chris Gocong is running and on schedule after his Achilles tendon ruptured in training camp. Chudzinski expects him to be ready for the season but didn’t have an exact timetable for a return.
- Jauron was officially fired Monday, but Chudzinski said it was a paperwork formality. Jauron had been free to interview and seek other jobs.
- Chudzinski said he met quarterback Colt McCoy on Monday when he visited team headquarters.