Cleveland Browns: No starters defensive philosophy new but tested

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns are trying out a new defensive philosophy under the leadership of first-year defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

There will be no starters on defense this season for the Cleveland Browns. If that sounds odd, it should, but it’s actually an effective way to get the most out of the group Cleveland currently has.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams simply doesn’t believe in setting a strictly stratified depth chart which lays out starters, backups, and backups to backups. Instead, his idea is that if every defender gets an opportunity to play, the Browns will be as fresh as they can be. This has multiple benefits.

Of course, there is still an unofficial depth chart which lists defenders in the order they are projected. This is useful to estimate the amount of playing time each member of the defense should receive in a given game.

But no Cleveland defender should have the intention of playing every down, because that’s just not how Williams sees it working, according to an article on

"“What we do is, you’ll see – in all honesty – I don’t believe in starters. If you make an NFL team, and you understand — what’s coach going to let us have? 23? 24? We’re going to play.”"

Basically, however many slots Williams will be allotted by Hue Jackson, he intends on using them all. And not for players who are sitting on the bench waiting for an injury. Williams wants every player to play so the defense can be fresh.

Though this is a different way of putting together a roster, it is one which the Browns need to realize is quite overdue. It is undeniable that fatigue had an impact on many if not the majority of contests in 2016, games in which Cleveland’s defense was worn down over the course of the game due to their inability to stop the run.

While this season should bring better results against opposing rushing attacks, the reality is that Cleveland won’t make a drastic enough improvement in this area to avoid the fatigue that ensues.

The solution? First, to get better players and a better scheme. That’s already done. Now, Williams and his staff will look to keep the Browns fresh, which is a good idea.

What this also accomplishes is preventing an inaccurate sense of security which results from being labeled a “starter”. The Browns have witnessed this very often in the past. A player is signed to a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract, and the coaching staff feels as if they are obligated to play him. As a starter, there is actually too much of a sense of job security. The competitive juices are no longer flowing and preparation suffers.

Under this new system, players would earn their playing time based on their preparation and performance. Contracts, popularity, and experience ideally shouldn’t matter, as they aren’t direct causes of victory.

Instead, players will be treated equally. This, of course, doesn’t mean that they will get equal playing time, but that they will get equal opportunity to prove their worth.

And the benefits of coming into games with the intention of playing more than just the starters on defense are widespread. Most of all, it keeps everyone fresh.

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A fresh “average” defender is more valuable than a fatigued “star” defender in most cases. But the even greater implications of this is that it should help prevent injuries, which Williams links directly to fatigue.

Plus, if injuries are to occur, it’s less of a big deal when everyone is supposed to play at some point anyway. If all 23-24 guys who dress on defense are ready to go and prepare like they’re starting, injuries won’t have as much of an impact on the team.

This new philosophy says a lot about Williams. It shows that if he is indeed to follow through on his claims, he places the team above any individual and even the common structure of a football team.

It also shows, as Williams said himself, that no defender currently at camp doesn’t deserve a chance. And that’s a credit to the group of guys who have been brought in to camp to compete for roster spots.

The Browns are fortunate to have more talent on defense this season. First overall draft pick Myles Garrett and late first-round pick Jabrill Peppers highlight the personnel upgrades the team has made, as does the acquisition of Calvin Pryor. But the addition of these three players alone won’t turn Cleveland’s defense around in a single season.

Schematically, the Browns needed to make a change, which they did. And now, individual improvement is what they need to focus on. This means that players such as Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins, and Nate Orchard need to make strides to become as valuable of members within this system as they can.

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With the Browns allowing more players to play and requiring even their stars to earn their playing time, they are maintaining pressure on everyone and bringing out the best from their defense. Even though this isn’t the way Cleveland has managed their defense in the past, it will work better, and it will keep everyone fresher.