Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports
New defensive coordinator Ray Horton (right)
"Big guys that can run, little guys that can hit." That was what new defensive coordinator Ray Horton emphasized during his introductory press conference in January, via NFL.com's Kareem Copeland.
CEO Joe Banner gave him just that through free-agent signings and via the draft. The Browns' front seven 3-4 scheme base defense is filled with toys for Horton.
Changing from Dick Jauron's more reactive 4-3 strategy to Horton's pass rush-focused multifront attack has brought in new faces and given old ones different assignments.
Paul Kruger was the hot outside linebacker signing fresh off his Super Bowl victory with division rival Baltimore.
A defensive end in 2012, Jabaal Sheard is converting to a stand-up quarterback attacker opposite Kruger.
Throw in the incredibly athletic lineman Desmond Bryant as well as carryovers Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin, and there does not appear to be a weak spot in that front seven.
The secondary is where we'll see what Horton is made of.
Besides the phenomenal Joe Haden at cornerback and the hard-hitting, but often injured, strong safety T.J. Ward, the rest of Cleveland's defensive backfield is riddled with question marks.
Horton honed his craft under Pittsburgh's legendary Dick LeBeau. He then let loose his creativity as the defensive coordinator in Arizona where the cardinals ranked fifth for fewest passing yards allowed at 200.8 in 2012.
The key for this former NFL cornerback's game plan to succeed is that the passer must be hurried. Shortening the decision-making process for the signal-caller via a variety of formations, fakes and substitutions are all a part of it.
However, what happens when a quarterback does get the ball out into the secondary?
Buster Skrine is the leading candidate to be the other outside corner across from Haden. He's demonstrated improvement during training camp but did look overwhelmed in the same role last season and took a large amount of penalties.
Chris Owens was a free agent brought in for a one-year deal to battle for that job coming from Atlanta. When healthy, he has appeared solid, but injuries have kept him in and out of the lineup.
Leon McFadden worked through some training camp ailments as well, which makes it tough for a rookie to wrestle a position away from veterans like Skrine and Owens.
The free safety spot has new unproven faces in starter Tashaun Gipson, backup Johnson Bademosi and 2013 sixth-round selection Jamoris Slaughter. Plenty of potential, but there are sure to be growing pains.
Horton is relying on the athleticism of his defensive backs to hang tight in man-to-man coverage and pounce on turnover opportunities created by that potentially potent pass rush.