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Browns Mailbag: Why do Browns rotate so many players on defense?

Based on the parking lot outside of the Browns training facility and the timing of this mailbag, It's not a normal week in Berea.

Players are out of town until Tuesday and we're rolling out this weekly segment 24 hours later than usual. We'll all be back to our usual routine next week -- sort of. The Monday night kickoff will shake up the schedule just a bit before Cleveland hits the home stretch.

On to the questions.

Why do we have to keep people on defense fresh these days? I don't see an advantage of changing out your starters vs second string. Could you imagine Joe Green, Michael Dean Perry or J.J. Watt sitting out a bunch of plays? Maybe that's our way of saying we have no first stringers? I'm old school but the specialist we need is a football player who is hard to handle. -- George W., Louisville

This is an interesting question with multiple answers. In their interviews with reporters Wednesday, multiple assistant coaches answered it even without being asked this specific question.

Let's go position group by position group.

When the unit is at full strength -- and that's been a rarity this season -- the Browns secondary typically doesn't rotate all that much. If they're healthy, safeties Tashaun Gipson and Donte Whitner and cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Joe Haden essentially aren't coming off the field. The rotation there comes when the Browns roll out their nickel and dime packages. The Browns play enough nickel that K'Waun Williams typically plays upwards of 50-70 percent of the defense's snaps. With Haden dealing with a variety of injuries, the Browns have implemented different strategies in different games. In one game, Pierre Desir took nearly every snap in his place. In last week's game at Pittsburgh, Desir, Charles Gaines and Johnson Bademosi rotated.

At linebacker, the most stability can be found at inside linebacker, where Karlos Dansby plays almost every snap. Because Craig Robertson and Christian Kirksey are both trusted and viewed as starting caliber linebackers, they often rotate at the spot alongside Dansby. There's more to this, of course, as both Robertson and Kirksey are vital cogs on special teams. Keeping them as fresh as possible for their double duty plays a major part in this philosophy to rotate. At outside linebacker, assistant coach Brian Fleury is tasked with putting his players in the best possible position to maximize his respective skill set. For pass rushing, Paul Kruger and Armonty Bryant receive the majority of the snaps, but there's a fine line there, too. Earlier in the season, after Kruger played almost every snap, defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said that it was too many and it was essential to have pass rushers fresh at the end of the game. A player such as Barkevious Mingo, whom Fleury said had elite coverage skills, is vital on plays where one of the outside linebackers drops back into coverage.

On the defensive line, the snaps are divided on a fairly similar basis among the six players Anthony Weaver rotates in and out of the game. This is a fairly standard practice around the NFL -- Watt is the exception, not the rule. On Wednesday, Weaver said he hasn't changed up his rotations much since the start of the season outside of the increased inclusion of rookie Xavier Cooper.

"I really just try to roll them in waves and keep guys fresh, and then in the fourth, the plan is always to play the hot hand," Weaver said. "We haven't been in the situation often where we've been in leads and we're trying to protect leads where I can do that."

With Joe Haden's lingering concussion problems, and now that the team has gone with Manziel as the starter to see what he can do the rest of this year and what that means "moving forward," why not put Haden on IR and see which outside cover corner is better prepared to play. Shouldn't they use the remainder of this year to find out whether it's Gilbert or Desir?

Also, now that Randall Telfer is practicing and Housler is gone, when can we expect to see E.J. Bibbs and Telfer in a game? -- Charles C., Sheridan, Wyoming

Haden's status remains up in the air and he remains in the concussion protocol. His status is considered day to day and will remain that way until we hear otherwise from Browns coach Mike Pettine. In the meantime, Desir and Gaines have received valuable snaps at the position and will continue to do so until Haden returns.

As for Bibbs and Telfer, that remains to be seen. In the time Housler has been out, Bibbs has been active just once. The Browns have a couple of weeks to decide whether to activate Telfer or place him on season-ending injured reserve.

You mentioned Justin Gilbert and his increased playing time. Any chance the Browns will try him at wide receiver? -- Fred D., Naples, Florida

Gilbert is a defensive back and will continue to work as such with the Browns.

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