In three weeks of training camp, Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton has seen emerging leaders on that side of the ball, and for the veteran coach, the conversation begins up front with one of the team’s most quiet players, lineman
“He is one of those guys that is coming out of his shell,” Horton said. “He is a quiet man, but he’s starting to come out because he knows he’s a good player. He knows his teammates trust him, so he is starting to talk more.
“At first, I didn’t know he could talk. He is opening up. He is one of those guys that you probably don’t miss until he is gone and ask, ‘What happened?’ He just does his job very well. If you watch the tape, he dominated in (Thursday night's preseason victory against Detroit).”
“I like players to be smart, to be invested, and to have ownership and I always say, ‘If you can come up with something that will work and it’s solid and schematically sound, I’ll run it,’” Horton said. “I think the players really feel like, ‘This is our team.’ I want it to be their team. I hope it’s the Cleveland Browns’ team, where the players are invested and they are the ones that make the plays. I think if you give them ownership, they respond to you.”
Besides the defensive line, Horton has seen linebackers
“They are on pace,” Horton said. “Jabaal has done a fantastic job. You wouldn’t know that we have changed from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and moved him from the left to the right (by watching him). He’s just a football player going out playing football.
“Paul is picking up the nuances of our defense. He was a 3-4 left outside linebacker. He is out here, but the terminology is a little different and how I call the game is a little different. He is getting comfortable with it. I can see the leadership role coming out in him now because he is more comfortable in what he does and what we ask him to do.”
Horton credited Groves with being a “good football player,” one able to help the team on and off the field.
“Quentin was a second-round draft pick,” Horton said. “He talks in front of our players on how precious this league is. It’s not forever. You are not guaranteed, just because you are a second-round pick, to make any team. It can be taken away from you by injury, performance.
“He has a good perspective on football, on life, on pads, on practice; and not only that, he is a good player for us. He adds fantastic depth on our first-, second- and third-down defense, and special teams. He has been one of our better leaders on our team.”
While he has seen leadership from the defensive line and at linebacker, Horton wants young veterans, cornerback
“I’m challenging those two individuals because they are young guys,” Horton said. “They are in the secondary to show leadership qualities, to show young guys what to do. I’m just really pushing for those two guys to step up and be thought of as the young, up-and-coming defensive backs that are going to be the stars in this league. They both have the physical tools, makeup and mentality to accept the challenge that, ‘I want to be on their best receiver or their best tight end and create plays for our defense.’”
TAKING OWNERSHIP OF THE DEFENSE
The Browns have allowed the St. Louis Rams and Lions to convert 31 first downs, but only 10 of those have been on third-down situations. Only 35.7 percent of the time have the Browns’ preseason opponents be able to convert on third down.
“I like that they are excited,” Horton said of the third-down defense. “I look down at the field and see Phil jumping around and D’Qwell (Jackson) jumping around. I like that it’s important to them. They have taken ownership of it.
“They bring up plays to me. The defensive-line coach wants pressure, so it’s easy for me to call a game right now because they want certain things. They know if we do this everybody will eat in our defense. They have taken ownership. If you listen to them on the field, they always say, ‘Eleven to the ball.’ That’s something I say I want, and they are starting to take ownership. I like the path that we are on.”
While Horton admitted to being pleased with his defense’s third-down percentage, he credited part of their success to the Browns’ offense.
“I love our offense,” Horton said. “I am the biggest cheerleader upstairs. The offense really helps us on the defensive end. I just sit back and smile because they are moving the ball, ball control, and third down, everything you want from an offense. They are doing a fantastic job and they are moving the ball, controlling the ball, no turnovers. And if we have that, they make our defense better.”
MINGO ON THE MEND
On Saturday, outside linebacker
“He looks great,” Horton said. “As far as projections, the doctors will make that decision. We just want him to get healthy and are glad everything is okay. The projection will be whenever his body says he is ready to go.”