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Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton says NT Danny Shelton improving, flashing dominance, can be Pro Bowler with consistency

BEREA — Danny Shelton has been way more boom than bust lately.
After a frustrating rookie season and a lackluster preseason, the 6-foot-2, 335-pound nose tackle appears to have turned a corner in his second season. He’s started to live up to the hype that accompanies being the No. 12 pick in the draft.
“Danny’s playing at a Pro Bowl level,” end Xavier Cooper said Friday. “There’s no doubt. In my eyes, he’s playing physical, he’s being disruptive and I think he’s motivating the whole room, making me want to go out there and play at that level.
“I think Danny’s coming into his own right now.”
Shelton ranks fourth on the team with 27 tackles, has a sack and tackle for loss and has earned a sharp increase in playing time over his rookie season, including 69 percent of the 62 defensive snaps last week. He’s played extensively in the base 3-4 alignment and on early downs when coordinator Ray Horton has employed four linemen.
“Improving. Getting better. He has played extremely well the last three weeks and is getting better every day,” coach Hue Jackson said. “He understands the demand of his position and what is expected and starting to meet those demands. He is doing well.”
Shelton played the best game of his 22-game career Sunday in a 28-26 loss to the Tennessee Titans, according to profootballfocus.com. He got his first career sack and five run stops.
“That was one of the things that was on my list of goals was to get a sack,” Shelton said. “I’m still trying to push to get more sacks, I want to get at least five sacks, so it’s going to be a hard thing to do.”
Horton saw potential when he arrived this season, but demanded significant changes from Shelton. He told him to lose weight — he’s dropped about 30 pounds — and fix his technique.
“We think he can be a Pro Bowl, dominant player,” Horton said. “I don’t want to put an undue burden on him, but that’s what we feel. We’re pushing him to be that.
“He’s shown flashes of being ‘wow’ dominant in there. I think the changes we’ve asked him to make help that. He’s shown improvement in his play and I know other teams know that because they make comments to me about it. I think he’s maybe now starting to understand, ‘I can be pretty good at this level.’ He is taking steps and becoming a leader. He’s a very smart player. He works hard. He’s got intensity. He’s got range.”
But Horton isn’t satisfied. He wants consistency.
“There’s ebbs and flows in games,” Horton said. “For us to get where we want, we have to be very consistent. You know there’s going to be a play or two that really swings the game and what we’re striving for is our better players to show the younger players this is how you do it day-in and day-out in practice, and he does. He works hard.
“But I think with him the expectation is more. We’re going to drive him for more.”
Shelton said after last season’s struggles — 36 tackles and little impact — he wanted to focus on playing with greater consistency. So he and Horton are on the same page.
“It’s just a day-by-day thing, you’ve got to continue to have it in your game plan to be consistent,” he said. “So I’m going to continue to try to get better at that as well.
“Coach Horton, he’s really helped me as far as having a mental game, prepare for each game. So going into this season one of my goals was to play every game like a Pro Bowler.”
Shelton also credits his improved play to an increase in confidence. The strong start has certainly helped.
Profootballfocus.com grades him as the eighth-best interior defender and No. 3 in run defense. He leads the league with 23 run stops.
“The run game is my priority,” he said. “I was drafted here to stop the run, so it’s time for me to continue to do that.”
Horton thinks Shelton can be more than just a big body in middle of the defense that occupies blockers. He wants him to affect plays from hash mark to hash mark.
“If you watch film, he’s downfield on screens, on alley screens and plays,” Horton said. “He does it in practice, too. He’s that kind of player. I remember at the University of Washington he was that type of player also. It was something that was in him.
“It’s just something that we’re demanding from him and he’s starting to understand that he’s going to be one of our leaders and he’s trying to be one of our leaders. If you can be a stud defensive nose in the AFC North, you can be a stud defensive nose in the NFL. That’s what we’re trying to push him to be.”
A dominant man in the middle can change how offenses play.
“The way they have to block things is different,” Jackson said. “He will force double teams where normally you wouldn’t have to double-team.
“He has been very disruptive in the middle of the line. He needs to continue to do so.”
“He has all the intangibles,” inside linebacker Demario Davis said. “Very strong, very smart, very instinctive, has the potential to be the best nose tackle in football, and he’s been playing like it.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or [email protected] Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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