Inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson has seen just about everything during his eight seasons with the Cleveland Browns, except for a trip to the playoffs.
Jackson is playing for his fourth head coach and his second team owner, so changing back from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive scheme isn’t a big challenge.
“I’ve played the 4-3, the 3-4, and a little bit of everything else since I’ve been here,” the 6-foot, 240-pounder said. “I’m telling you, it’s all the same. The only thing that’s confused me so far is the verbiage, which is a little different. Outside of that, I’m ready to go.
“We can’t wait to give Baltimore and Pittsburgh a dose of their own medicine.”
Jackson called defensive signals and aggressively played his position Wednesday, the second day of the initial minicamp under new coach Rob Chudzinski. The three-day voluntary session also is the first time Cleveland’s defense has been on the field with new coordinator Ray Horton.
Outside linebackers Paul Kruger (Baltimore) and Quentin Groves (Arizona) were added as free agents to aid in the shift to a 3-4, but Jackson remains the leader of the group — and the entire team — as the longest tenured member of the Browns.
“It definitely helps to have Quentin and Paul around because they know this system better than I do,” said Jackson, Cleveland’s second-round pick in 2006. “Paul is the only guy in this building with a Super Bowl ring, so I respect him for that. Quentin is a big asset, too, because Ray coached him last year in Arizona and knows what he brings to the table.”
Outside of the alignment, the biggest change in Horton’s system from former Browns coordinator Dick Jauron is the volume.
Jackson called signals from his position during the second day of minicamp, but was joined in doing so by players on the defensive line and in the secondary.
Horton utilized the same setup during the past two seasons as the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator. He was hired by Chudzinski on Jan. 18 after interviewing for the Browns’ coaching job with owner Jimmy Haslam III and CEO Joe Banner earlier in the month.
“The beauty of what Ray is doing is he doesn’t let the offense dictate anything,” Jackson said. “He’s giving everybody a chance to rush, cover, and make big plays. I already know he’s a man of his word because I went back and watched all his films from Arizona. From the first game to the last game, their guys got the same opportunities all year.”
During his introductory press conference, Horton cautioned fans not to jump to conclusions about his style, saying “We may be a 3-4 on one snap, we may be a 4-3 on another snap. I guarantee we’ll be a 5-2 sometimes and we’ll be a 4-4 sometimes.”
None of those exotic sets were used during the 30-minute portion of practice open to the media, but Jackson confirmed their existence. He said Cleveland is using the same “hybrid defense with multiple fronts” that Horton devised during his 2004-2010 stint as the Steelers’ defensive backs coach.
Horton, who won two Super Bowls in Pittsburgh, helped the Cardinals lead the NFL in interception percentage (4.4 percent) and defensive passer rating (71.2) last season.
Those numbers are in stark contrast to the Browns teams that Jackson has played on. Cleveland is 37-75 over the past seven years under former coaches Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, and Pat Shurmur.
“It’s a world class unit we’ve got here now from the top on down,” Jackson said. “With Ray and Chud, Mr. Banner, and Mr. Haslam, it just feels like everything is coming together for the Browns.”
Haslam is expected to fly into Northeast Ohio today and spend two days working with the football operations staff. On Monday, FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents executed four search warrants at the Knoxville, Tenn. headquarters of Pilot Flying J, whose CEO is Haslam. ... Banner and general manager Michael Lombardi are coordinating the Browns’ draft preparation. Cleveland has the sixth overall pick in the first round, which takes place on April 25. ... Chudzinski plans on having the team practice outside today, weather permitting. He has held the first two sessions indoors because the grass fields were recently aerated.