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Browns Mailbag: How should the Browns construct their lineups in final 4 games?

For the first time since the Browns Mailbag was introduced this summer, there was no new edition last week.

We'll blame Monday Night Football and a surplus of Wednesday news items for the lack of a mailbag.

We're back to a normal routine for Week 13 and ready to roll with our coverage of Browns-49ers leading into Sunday.

The playoffs are out of the question, so should we play the team "question marks" the rest of the season? (Meaning should we start the team unknowns: Manziel, Gilbert, Orchard, Gaines, Pryor, Bibbs, Mingo, Erving, Campbell, etc). Start them and see if they work. -- Brent H., Chicago

By circumstance and by the sheer fact they're the best option at their respective position, a number of these players have worked their way into prominent roles.

Johnny Manziel, of course, will start Sunday and is poised to hold that role for the remainder of the season. Will that give the Browns the clearest, most exact picture of his future as an NFL starting quarterback? Probably not, but it's a good start, especially when you factor in the tough competition he'll be facing.

Justin Gilbert remains sidelined with a concussion. He made his first start of the season Week 11. When he returns, he'll be in the mix for a role in the secondary, and it will be a prominent one if Joe Haden remains sidelined.

Nate Orchard has been a regular at outside linebacker since Week 5. A groin injury has hampered him in recent weeks, but he's played through it.

Rookie cornerback Charles Gaines started Sunday and played the most snaps of anyone on the defense. Like Gilbert, he'll remain in the mix for playing time in a competition with Pierre Desir and Johnson Bademosi.

Pryor's situation is week to week. It was a tall order to assume he'd be ready for live action against the Bengals. His work on the practice field and handle of the offense will dictate how he's utilized in the final four games.

With fullback Malcolm Johnson out for the season, Bibbs could be in line for more playing time down the home stretch. He saw increased snaps while Johnson was injured during the preseason and could be of some help in light of the Browns' recent injuries at wide receiver.

Linebacker Barkevious Mingo has seen steady playing time throughout the season but is behind the likes of Paul Kruger and Armonty Bryant on pass-rushing downs. It's unclear if that will change much over the next four weeks.

Cameron Erving is poised for significant playing time at left guard in light of Joel Bitonio's season-ending ankle injury. Erving has dealt with some adversity at a relatively new position, but the next four games could help him iron out some issues.

Ibraheim Campbell has been a main cog on special teams but is bogged down on the depth chart behind the likes of Donte Whitner, Tashaun Gipson and Jordan Poyer. As long as they're healthy, it's hard to find a spot on the defense for Campbell on regular downs.

A close-up look at Sunday's action.

If you reach a record bad enough that playoffs are not really a realistic option, then what would be the motivation to try to win the last several games? If you just work on preparation and improvements but end up with the top draft pick then you have something out of nothing. What would stop a team from doing that? -- James S., Hamilton

Every member of the 53-man roster wants to win, and the carrot that is the potential No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft doesn't interest them in the slightest. As we see throughout the NFL every season, a number of them won't be playing for the Browns in 2016 to benefit from that first-round pick. There's too much pride among the players and coaches to do anything but try to win and play as well as they can on Sundays.

Why is Mingo getting used so much as a coverage linebacker? I understand he excels at that, but he was drafted to be a pass rusher. What made him so effective in college at LSU was lining up at defensive end. Why aren't the Browns doing this? -- Sam P., Medina

Mingo played in a 4-3 defense at LSU. The Browns use a 3-4 and tend to use much bigger players at those end spots. Mingo is still used on occasion as a pass rusher -- he was in the thick of things when Kruger sacked Andy Dalton on Sunday -- but he provides significant value in pass coverage, and the Browns can't simply remove an important piece of that kind of defense.

When will you play Hayes Pullard, the rookie from USC? -- Dr. G, Los Angeles

Pullard was on the Browns' practice squad until Oct. 28, when the Jaguars signed him away from Cleveland. The former seventh-round pick is still in Jacksonville, has appeared in four games and has compiled four tackles.

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