With the introduction of Ken Whisenhunt's new offensive and defensive coordinators, one of the foremost questions for the Tennessee Titans was how will the defense be affected by incorporating more 3-4 schemes.
On Wednesday, new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who has run the 3-4 in his stops with Arizona and Cleveland, addressed the issue of the Titans switching from a 4-3 base.
“I think what Coach Whisenhunt is saying is that a hybrid defense is probably something that changes depending upon the team that you're playing offensively and then with the role of everybody being in multiple wide receiver sets throughout the game. You're always in a different personnel package; sometimes we're in a 2-5,” Horton said. “I think what he is saying is you have to have good athletes that can play multiple positions. I don't think you can be pigeon-holed into any type of defense anymore.
“I think it's less important what the configuration is and more important the personnel that you have on the field.”
Horton said he has watched about half the Titans' 2013 games and likes what he has seen thus far of the defensive personnel he will be inheriting from Jerry Gray and Gregg Williams.
“We're about halfway through last year's season and the thing that impresses me most is the speed on the field,” Horton said. “They run and they're athletic. Regardless of the system or scheme they were playing, they run to the ball.. (Whether it's a 4-3 or a 3-4), the front seven, they run to the ball and on the back end they tackle well. That's the keys to a good defense.”
Whisenhunt said Horton, who spent 2012 as the Cleveland Browns' defensive coordinator, was an easy choice to be run the Titans' defense.
“Well, I called him and asked if he was interested and he said yes, so that was about all I needed,” Whisenhunt said. “I mean Ray did a great job for us in Arizona for me and our team.
“Ray and I have been together or a number of years, so I have great respect for what he has done as a position coach as well as a coordinator. I think his communication with the team and the way he gets those guys to play is an important piece of it. So I feel very lucky that we were able to get him.”
Whisenhunt said that friendship with Horton aside, he has a great deal of respect for him as a coach.
“Look at what he did with that group in Cleveland last year. Independently of my friendship or my respect for Ray is the fact that he's a darn good football coach,” Whisenhunt said.
The Browns defense finished in the top 10 this season under Horton's leadership, despite the club's 4-12 finish.
Horton said he likes what he sees of the secondary that tackled well for the most part. As for the linebackers, whom many felt took a step backwards with young players like Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers not being as productive as the Titans would have hoped, Horton said he expects them to perform well in the new scheme – at least from the film he has watch thus far of last season.
“Halfway through, I would say we played a lot of cover two here last year in Tennessee, the defense that affords you to make a lot of tackles, but probably not getting a lot of production in the sack game. We will probably play as much cover two as we did last year. I think our linebackers are guys that should be able to flow fast to the ball,” Horton said. “I think our front will be very strong and allow our linebackers to cover more ground.
“It will be a little different than last year and they will produce and the numbers will be up. I'm pretty sure they will be.”