By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Back to the future on defense: The Browns officially are switching back to the 3-4 defense under new coordinator Ray Horton.
“It won’t be a hybrid, not unless we’re playing golf,” Horton said in an interview Thursday on XTRA 910 radio in Phoenix. “It’ll be a 3-4. It’ll be the same defense we ran here. It’ll be kind of a stick’um defense … go get’em. That’s what we do.”
The “hybrid” reference was in response to the term that Browns coach Rob Chudzinski used when he hedged about his defensive style preference at his introductory press conference on Jan. 11. At the time, Horton was still in the running for the Arizona Cardinals head coach job.
But ever since Horton was named coordinator on Jan. 18, it has been conspicuously unspoken as to exactly what system Horton would implement here. That was odd because Horton learned for seven years under Dick LeBeau as a Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coach and then emulated his 3-4 blitz-happy scheme in two years as Cardinals coordinator.
“We’re going to be mirror teams,” Horton said of now facing the Steelers twice a year. “We’re going to look exactly the same (on defense).”
Horton will be introduced in Cleveland on Tuesday.
Opposite direction: Horton couldn’t be more different from Dick Jauron, the man he is succeeding.
Horton, 52, an African-American, is aggressive and outspoken, and brings pressure from all areas of the field. He said that in head coach interviews, including the one he had with the Browns, he asked if his braided hair style would be an issue.
“And every team said it was not,” Horton said. “I didn’t want it to be an elephant in the room. If you’re worried about that, would I want to be with your organization? No.”
Jauron, 62, is a renaissance man from Yale who spoke softly and coached conservatively. His defense here for two years rarely took chances, partly because he was forced to field several first- and second-year players because of injuries to more experienced ones.
Speaking of Horton at the Cleveland Sports Awards on Thursday night, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said, “We knew him from the Steelers. (He’s) fired up. Intense. I think he’ll relate extremely well to players. I think the players will like him.
“It’ll be an attacking defense. He told me in Phoenix, with Arizona, that he blitzed more than anybody in the league except for the Houston Texans. So it’ll be exciting and fun to watch. He’s really excited about the players we have here. We need to add one or two to round out the team. I think you’ll like him.”
Small world: Horton was the first candidate for head coach the Browns interviewed. Horton also interviewed for head coach with Buffalo and Arizona.
Horton said that in all of his interviews, he stated he would be able hire Norv Turner to run his offense. Turner and Horton now are the bang! bang! coordinators of Chudzinski’s staff with the Browns.
Horton was disappointed he didn’t land the Cardinals head coach job after receiving a second interview.
“I felt like I hit a home run, obviously not a grand slam,” he said.
“When you go in, obviously, they’re looking for something. What, you don’t know. The trend this year is offensive coaching. I appreciate the opportunity. You get to meet people like Mr. Haslam and Mr. (Joe) Banner. When I was released (by Arizona), they didn’t hesitate to call here.”
Horton said he is excited about the opportunity in Cleveland.
“You have to be,” he said. “They have one of the youngest teams in the league. Forty (players) of their 62, counting the practice squad, are under 3 years in the league. I had dinner with Mr. Haslam. The thing that was most impressive, he came in the first game of the season (and) they knew they were probably going to make a coaching change at the end, but the team didn’t quit.”
There will be other days to dissect the wisdom of reverting back to the 3-4 after the past regime spent two years loading up on defensive linemen to play the 4-3. Respected 3-4 aficionados Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini couldn’t make the 3-4 work for the Browns in five seasons of trying.
Crennel and Mangini were branches of the Bill Belichick tree in New England. And each man had at times as their GMs Phil Savage and, for eight games, anyway, George Kokinis, who were schooled with the Baltimore Ravens in scouting players specifically for the 3-4.
But the one thing the Browns haven’t tried – strangely and inexplicably – has been stealing some of the brainpower from the Pittsburgh Steelers. So Horton has that, at least.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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