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Why Gregg Williams doesn't 'believe in starters' as Browns assemble defense

The question posed to Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was where Nate Orchard, who shined in Thursday's preseason opener, fits on a deep defensive line as training camp winds down.

Williams, whom the club hired in January, used it as an opportunity to outline a greater philosophy when it comes a young defense filled with potential across the board.

"What we do is, you'll see – in all honesty – I don't believe in starters," he said Tuesday. "If you make an NFL team, and you understand — what's coach (Hue Jackson) going to let us have? 23 (members of the 53-man roster)? 24? We're going to play."

That dynamic is partly why the Browns have mixed and matched players throughout camp, finding who does what best under Williams, who is known for tailoring his versatile defenses to the strength of its personnel.

Williams said playing time ultimately boils down to a few things. "How much you play will be dependent upon, No. 1, your production when you do get to play," he said, "and No. 2, what kind of package does the offense that we're going against play that utilizes us to get you in the game."

For that reason, Williams has each member of the Browns defense learning two positions and why versatile players such as linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. (who played quarterback in high school and safety in college) and rookie safety Jabrill Peppers (who played roughly a half-dozen positions at Michigan) could be poised for big seasons this fall.

The other point Williams, who met with the news media for the first time since camp opened, wanted to convey is how the Browns will use a robust rotation on the defensive line, including Orchard, rookie defensive end and No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett, Desmond Bryant, Danny Shelton, Emmanuel Ogbah and many others. 

"You can't play 90 snaps per game. Ask Myles in college. You can't play 80 snaps in a game," he said.

"As a defensive lineman that has a fistfight in a phone booth for three hours, and then he's running back and forth … you'll see the impact of a full-speed player over a player that's tired. The other thing you'll see is fatigue is directly related to injury, especially with a big guys. We're going to try do everything we can to keep it even when we can."

And because of that, there's plenty of competition as the Browns start to curate their 53-man roster over the next three weeks.

"This is a compliment to everybody here in the organization: There's nobody on the defensive side of the ball here right now who doesn't deserve a chance to make an NFL team," Williams said. "We have a good group of guys on our side of the ball. Those young guys came a long way from the mandatory minicamp to here.

"There are going to be some tough and hard decisions at the end on who's going to make the final roster," Williams continued, "who's going to be a practice squad candidate and — to be quite truthful — guys who I've had a chance to touch and coach during preseason games make other teams because they see how fast and hard they play for us. It's a good young group."

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