Horton's communication skills will be tested in Arizona

Posted Feb. 10, 2011 @ 2:11 p.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

While it took a lot longer to hire him than many in the desert would have preferred, new Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton appears to have made a strong initial impression among team insiders. More than a month after the firing of Billy Davis, Horton officially became the Cardinals’ third defensive coordinator in four seasons Wednesday after spending the past four seasons as the Steelers' DB coach. Clancy Pendergast and Davis each lasted two seasons in the same capacity before being given their walking papers.

Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt knows exactly what he’s getting in the 50-year-old Horton, having worked with him in Pittsburgh for three seasons. Horton played defensive back for 10 years in the NFL and appeared in Super Bowls with both the Bengals and Cowboys. He has coached the past 17 years at the pro level for four different teams — Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Washington and Detroit. Horton immediately promised an attacking, aggressive defense patterned after the Steelers’ 3-4 but faces the daunting challenge of incorporating his system in a streamlined time frame because of the work stoppage widely expected to kick in after March 4.

The PFW Spin

As far as the complaints from many in Cardinals Nation regarding how long it took for Whisenhunt to make this hire, it has been assumed since before even the season ended that the head coach had his sights set on a member of the Steelers’ defensive staff and would have to wait until Pittsburgh’s season ended. Whisenhunt might have preferred Dick LeBeau, the Steelers’ Hall of Fame defensive coordinator, or good buddy Keith Butler, Pittsburgh’s LB coach who is expected eventually to replace LeBeau. But the Cardinals' head coach has full confidence in Horton, who has been widely regarded under the radar for some time now for his work in the Steelers’ tried-and-true 3-4 system.

Word is Horton has wasted no time displaying what appear to be strong communication skills in his initial dealings with the local media. And that figures to be at least half the battle in his new gig, which will require for him to get through to key defenders such as CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and DE Calais Campbell a lot better than Davis did in a 2010 season marred by major underachievement.

While the Cardinals’ defense clearly could use a boost talent-wise, especially in terms of an outside pass rusher, this is a unit that still appears to possess relatively strong personnel. The team’s franchise-record 12 TD returns, the majority of which came on fumbles and interceptions, attest to the impact playmaking ability Horton will have at his disposal. There were more than a few times this past season, however, when the defense seemed to be marching to a different drummer, often looking disinterested, and Horton must nip that disturbing tendency in the bud as soon as possible.

At least early on, it looks like he could be focusing on the Cardinals’ secondary in particular, as evidenced by the hiring of Deshea Townsend (one of Horton's former players in Pittsburgh) as assistant defensive backs coach and the imminent hiring of Louie Cioffi (from the Bengals) as the new secondary coach, according to sources close to the team. Horton, Townsend and Cioffi can be expected to pay especially close attention to Rodgers-Cromartie, a very deserved Pro Bowl selection in 2009 who really regressed in ’10.

One last thought: In Pro Football Weekly’s latest mock draft, the Cardinals are tabbed to select Texas A&M OLB Von Miller, who drew rock-solid reviews at this year’s Senior Bowl, with their first-round pick. Getting a blue-chip talent like Miller with the fifth overall pick could be just what the Cardinals’ newest defensive doctor ordered.