Horton on Jackson, leadership and Mingo

We already touched on Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton saying the best way to defend the read-option is to hit the quarterback early and often, but Horton touched on a few other issues during a conference call today as well, and he did so in his typically and refreshingly honest way:

Horton clearly loves -- that would be l-o-v-e-s -- linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. The first thing Jackson said to Horton when the two met in the offseason was “We’re tired of losing.” Understandably. Horton then called Jackson the Browns “unquestioned leader,” and said he is leading the way in the defense “taking ownership” in its play. Jackson is doing that by holding post-practice Friday meetings with players to discuss plays and watch film, and then having them to his house Friday night to talk more. Horton said he encourages input from his players, and even allows them to draw up and suggest plays, and Jackson and the defense are doing just that. “They feel empowered,” Horton said.

One reason the players may feel empowered is Horton’s attitude. He knows well that a team is best run when its leadership comes from within. That he is comfortable and confident enough to allow that to happen goes against the ultimate credo of control of some NFL folks, and speaks well to him as a person, and a coach. Said Horton: “I coach men.”

Horton had some very positive things to say about E.J. Manuel, a rookie whom Horton said does not play like one. Horton pointed out that Manuel has faced New England, the Jets and Baltimore, and he had the Bills competitive in every game. He even said Rex Ryan gave Manuel “a ton of different looks” on defense. “The kid is pretty unflappable,” Horton said, adding he was impressed that Manuel is “not the kind of rookie who is going to make a ton of mistakes.”

The Browns scouted Manuel in the draft, and chose linebacker Barkevious Mingo first. Horton said as a defensive coach, he’d take Mingo “every time.” But he added that in the long run “both teams will be happy with the players they picked.”

As for how Mingo played in his first start, Horton balked when the word “well” was used. “I did not use that word, ‘well,’” he said. Horton said Mingo had some good plays -- which were very visible -- and some plays that were not good. “We’re trying to eliminate the rookie mistakes,” Horton said. “He’s a work-in-progress.”

The final word from Horton, on cornerback Joe Haden being called a Pro Bowl caliber corner: “We’re challenging him to take the caliber off.”