Ray Horton is the Cardinals' third defensive coordinator under Ken Whisenhunt, and the Cardinals' coach knows he better have picked the right person for the job this time.
Since becoming head coach in 2007, Whisenhunt has sought to install a defensive system based on the Steelers' philosophy: a 3-4 base with lots of fire zone blitzes.
Whisenhunt expressed interest in hiring Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler three times, including this offseason, but was unable to. In the previous two hires, he turned to coaches already on the staff: Clancy Pendergast and Bill Davis.
The team's failures on defense were not all the fault of those coaches. There have been personnel mistakes, mostly bad draft choices, and one key defender, inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, was allowed to leave via free agency.
In Horton, Whisenhunt has someone intricately familiar with the Steelers' system. Horton coached the last seven years in Pittsburgh, working under 3-4 guru Dick LeBeau. He promises to bring a similar system to the Cardinals.
"I'm here to say right now, the first call is going to be a blitz," Horton said. "No question about it."
The Cardinals' problem on defense over the last four years has been inconsistency. Despite having Pro Bowl players such as end Darnell Dockett, safety Adrian Wilson and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Cardinals gave up too many big plays and collapsed at critical times.
One of Horton's biggest challenges will be to get more of the team's best defensive players.
Almost all of them had disappointing seasons, including Dockett, Wilson, Rodgers-Cromartie and end Calais Campbell.
"Our expectations for our defense certainly are that we're going to play better football," Whisenhunt said. "I definitely feel like Ray is the guy who is going to help us do that."
Horton, 50, has never been a coordinator before, but his resume suggests that he's ready. He played defensive back in the NFL for 10 years, spending time under LeBeau and former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson.
He's coached in the NFL for the last 17 years, much of that time working for LeBeau with the Bengals and Steelers.
Horton said he feels like he's been a coach "forever." As a freshman at the University of Washington, he was kicked off the field at practice by a coach who accused him of not knowing what he was doing.
Horton said he took that to heart and learned all the ins and outs of how a defense operated.
"I've been calling plays forever," he said. "I just haven't been the one calling them in the huddle."
Time is Horton's biggest enemy right now. With a player lockout looming, he wants to get his defensive scheme into the hands of his players before the end of the month.
That's going to require some long days. A lockout will also hinder installation of the defense, so Horton plans to adapt his calls to the Cardinals' terminology.
If the Cardinals currently use the same blitz as Horton, he won't change the name.
"I'll be putting my defense into their words," he said.
Horton has been given input on the makeup of the defensive staff. It appears secondary coach Donnie Henderson and assistant defensive backs coach Rick Courtright will not return.
Former NFL cornerback Deshea Townsend is the new assistant defensive backs coach, and Louie Cioffi likely will be the new secondary coach. Cioffi and Horton coached together in Cincinnati.
Horton brings Steelers' mentality to defense
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