- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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The biggest reservation I had with the hiring of Ray Horton as the Cleveland Browns' defensive coordinator was his scheme. He learned the 3-4 defense during his days in Pittsburgh and that's the style of defense he ran as the defensive coordinator in Arizona.
So it was good news to hear Horton isn't set on sticking with a 3-4 defense. "I'm a coach of men, whether it's 3-4, 4-3, 5-5, I don't care," Horton told The Plain Dealer. "I'm going to coach men."
Going to a 3-4 would be a step back for a defense that has been making strides the past two seasons. As everyone knows when the Browns switched to a 4-3, the transition takes time and often results in changing personnel. This defense was built with it being 4-3, and it was turning the corner in terms of stopping the run. The strength of the defense is the line (Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, Billy Winn and John Hughes) and not the linebackers. Switching to a 3-4 wouldn't be developing a scheme to fit the players. It would be forcing a scheme on these players.
If that's the style of defense that Horton wants, the Browns will need to draft linemen more suited for the two-gap responsibility and more versatile outside linebackers. That's not going to happen in one draft or one free agency period. It's not just me who would question the change. Defensive end Jabaal Sheard, who would be affected the most by the switch, is against going to a 3-4 defense and a move to outside linebacker.
"I would be [disappointed in a switch], because I like the 4-3 we're in, and it's a defense where I've been comfortable," Sheard told The Plain Dealer. "But I'm up for a challenge at any time. I want to show how athletic I am, and show that I can play multiple positions."
Change, however, is the theme of the Browns lately. New owner. New decision-makers. New head coach. Even a new name for the stadium. That's why no one should be surprised if the Browns ultimately decide to change on defense.