Not to be flippant, but Cards aiming high

TEMPE, Ariz. -- You might recall Ray Horton, upon his 2011 hiring as Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator, promising to blitz on the very first play of the season.

That same aggressive approach comes through more than a year later. I found out the easy way, by asking Horton, 52, what seemed like an innocuous question: How far ahead was he personally with a year of experience? Or, more broadly, what had he learned about himself and the job?

Those were the questions, but they didn't come out quite that way. Not with Horton showcasing the edge that helped him last 10 years as a defensive back in the NFL.

Sando: How far ahead are you personally from --

Horton: Personally?

Sando: Yeah --

Horton: Me?

Sando: Personally of just --

Horton: Me?

Sando: Being a coordinator? I guess the broader question is, what have you learned about yourself and about the job specifically --

Horton: OK.

Sando: From doing it.

Horton: Not to be flippant, but nothing. It's one of these thing where you hear these Hollywood things and say, 'I'm an overnight star from a hundred years ago.' They work hard in the 'B' movies and get to be an 'A' lister and all that. Well, you didn't just discover me last night. I've always been the same person. I'm always the same person. I haven't changed how I coach, what I do, expectations. I don't change staying later, going home earlier. So, nothing. Nothing.

Horton obviously considered himself ready to be a coordinator long before this opportunity came along. His delivery revealed an edgy, even defiant streak that can lend itself to coaching defense in particular.

It surfaced again when Horton was asked about the readiness of facing some of the increasingly potent two-tight end packages on the schedule.

"(Aaron) Hernandez, (Rob) Gronkowski, let's see, I've seen every doggone game, every doggone game that they ran last year," Horton said, referring to the New England Patriots' record-setting combination at the position.

Horton provided the same answer, almost verbatim, when asked a follow-up question.

"If I'm doing my job right, I'm prepared," he explained. "Now, still, that's he beauty of what we do. It's a chess match with me and (Patriots offensive coordinator) Josh McDaniels. ... I haven't looked at New Orleans yet because it's the first preseason game and I'm not concerned that way; I just want to see my guys react. But if you asked be about the Buffalo Bills, who I think we play in Week 12 [Week 6], I've already seen every play of them. So if you're asking me if I'm prepared, if I'm ready, you're damn right I am."

OK, but how are the Cardinals set up from a personnel standpoint to contend with two-tight end offenses?

"That's the magical question there," Horton said. "Better. Better than we were last year. Depth of talent. We've picked up some corners, picked up some outside linebackers. Being another year in the system where they can understand a package. We're ready as we are. We have no excuses."

The Cardinals return nearly all their key defensive contributors from last season. After struggling to learn a new system, the 2011 team ranked among the NFL's top 10 in touchdowns allowed, third-down defense, first downs allowed, sacks, yards per pass attempt allowed and red zone touchdown percentage over the final nine games.

They face Tom Brady and Michael Vick in the first three games of 2012, with later matchups against Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler.

Note: The Cardinals are scheduled to practice and interact with fans Wednesday night at University of Phoenix Stadium. I'm wrapping up at team headquarters and heading over there shortly.