Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton met with the media this past week for 23 minutes. You can watch the video of the entire presser here. Here are some notes we gathered from his press conference:
Big Men Who Run, Little Men Who Hit
Does the philosophy of "big men who can run, little men who can hit" still apply in the NFL? That was Horton's famous mantra the first time he was in Cleveland, and he still believes it, citing the tremendous defensive performances in this year's Super Bowl. Until they change the rules in the NFL, from Day 1, his goal is going to be focusing on pressuring the quarterback and suffocating in general. "In this division, you better be ready to play football on Sunday, or you're going to be embarrassed."
Can Barkevious Mingo Still be a Difference Maker?
Horton described OLB Barkevious Mingo as a "tall, lean, fast young man" who has to be utilized the right way, and he says they have some plans on the table for him that are different than what he's done in the past (which would presumably be his two years in Jim O'Neil's defense). "We have to do something to try to utilize his God-given ability," said Horton.
When asked if he sees Mingo as an edge rusher, Horton paused before saying, "I see him as a playmaking member of our defense. Where he'll line up? I don't know yet -- it depends on what he can handle from us."
How Does Danny Shelton Fit With Horton's Defense?
"One of the things I want for Danny is that I don't want for him to always have to come off the field," said Horton. "I want him to stay on the field as much as we want him on the field." This probably goes back to why Shelton was an intriguing draft prospect. In college, not only was he dominant, but he played a high percentage of his team's snaps. In his first year with the NFL, there were too many games where he wouldn't be a two-down or three-down player.
Talking About Christian Kirksey
One of the players who arrived after Horton's reign was ILB Christian Kirksey. When asked about his thoughts on the third-year linebacker, Horton started talking about how no matter who the player is on defense, he's going to make sure he finds ways to make them better. That sounded like a generic answer at first, but then Horton dropped this nugget: "[Kirksey] is probably going to be a starter for us." Horton might not be privy to the team's free agency and draft plans in full, but the team might roll with Kirksey and ILB Karlos Dansby again. Where does that leave ILB Craig Robertson, though?
Why Leave the Tennessee Titans?
Horton could have stayed in Tennessee with a defense he's built the past two years, but he opted to jump shift to Cleveland. Why? The first reason he expressed was to be with head coach Hue Jackson. The second was that, despite only spending one year here, he really fell in love with the city and the people.
Horton was also asked about his last press conference with Cleveland in 2013, where he was upset about how his unit finished. He was asked if he felt he still had unfinished business here, and if that helped spark his interest in returning? "When I watch the passion of the fans here, I want to bring a winner here," said Horton. "That's what is unfinished."
Paul Kruger Being Upset About His Utilization
Horton said that in order to improve Paul Kruger's productivity, they have to either be able to give him a Batman to his Robin, or a Robin to his Batman -- whoever he wants to be. That comes off as a bit of a knock toward the likes of Mingo, OLB Armonty Bryant, OLB Scott Solomon, and OLB Nate Orchard.
"Obviously in this league, you can't just rush and be one-dimensional all the time," said Horton, wish respect to Kruger. "Whether we rush 8 or rush 3, you've got to do what's called in the defense. We're going to give him opportunities, there's no question about it. When Paul gets back into town, I'll ask him -- I don't know what happened before and don't really care -- what can you do better this year? He's one of our elite players who has to play better for us."
Confidence That Joe Haden Can Bounce Back
Horton noted that CB Joe Haden and his wife are opening a shoe store in Downtown Cleveland. "As long he's on the field healthy for us, he'll be starting for us and I expect good things out of him," said Horton, who also acknowledged that Haden is one of the team's elite players who needs to be better.
Horton's 3-4 Defense
The fact that several players were previously in Horton's 3-4 defense, and that the rest of the team has played a version of the 3-4 the past two years, will help ease the transition to Horton's 2016 defense. He said he's not sure how far the differences in terminology go from Jim O'Neil's defense are, since he didn't look at his playbook. "We have a lot of work to do -- we're not close," said Horton, with regard to the defense in general needing to get better. He acknowledged that he really likes the effort the players gave last year, though, and that they'll be a 3-4 with four-man fronts.
Thoughts on Justin Gilbert
Horton was very smart, and I assume deliberately, with his answer about CB Justin Gilbert. When asked about if he was familiar with Gilbert, he said, "Only from [college] -- and I believe he picked a pass off from Andrew Luck and returned it for a touchdown [as a rookie with the Browns]. That's what I want from him. I want to use his God-given ability to let him play football at a high level."
Gilbert has been a train wreck over his first two years, and Horton has to know that. With that said, this team needs more playmakers on defense, and that could still be a strong suit for Gilbert. If Horton can utilize his experience with defensive backs to salvage Gilbert, then you want to start by pumping up his best days/plays and then essentially letting him know, "here if your clean slate, now prove to me you can be that same playmaker for me."
Getting Better Against the Run
"We have to teach fundamentals," said Horton. "Everybody has to have a job."
Horton was also asked about the defensive players reportedly saying the defense was too complex last year, forcing them to think too much instead of reacting. Horton said he'd find it surprising if players said that, but that he's going to tell them very soon a saying that he has: "Everything is simple if you understand it. We try to teach and deliver in a way that is very simple. It is complex, but it's very simple if you understand it. They will have zero issue with it -- and if it's too complex, I will change it for them."