For the first time since early September, Cleveland Browns running back Ben Tate returned to the practice field.
In the brief time the media was able to get a glimpse of him, the 26-year-old was moving with agility during individual drills. Coach Mike Pettine said the Browns will increase Tate's practice workload as the week goes on and if the team trainers deem him healthy, Tate will start on Sunday at Tennessee.
"We're looking forward to getting him back," said Pettine. "He was playing at a high level before he got hurt. We want to be committed to running the football. When you have that mentality, you can't have enough good backs."
Tate's beliefs coincide with his head coach on Cleveland's running back depth being an ideal strength to have. Terrance West's 204 yards rank 16th in the NFL, while Isaiah Crowell has developed a nose for the end zone. His three touchdowns are tied for second in the league.
"I don't think you guys, the media, thought we would be able to move the ball and score touchdowns," said Tate from his locker on Tuesday. "Brian is playing at a high level, we have a running game that's going. That's a tough offense to stop."
In particular it's the undrafted Crowell who Tate had glowing commentary for. Tate, a former SEC athlete from Auburn, kept close tabs on Crowell's career – which started at Georgia and eventually took a turn to Division I-AA at Alabama State, right down the road from Auburn. The beefy 225-pound rookie has shown that he belongs in the NFL, and then some.
"I've always thought Crowell was a good back," Tate said with conviction. "He didn't change at all. He's a guy that's receptive to the help. He wants to get better. A guy like that, all you can do is help him and watch him grow. A guy like that, he's definitely [improved] leaps and bounds from the summer."
Pettine said at the moment the team has not decided on how the carries will be distributed amongst the trio of running backs against the Titans. But how well Tate, Crowell and West perform during practice will be the chief reason in how the coaching staff bases their game plan.
Tate did practice on Tuesday with a knee brace. It's the first time in his entire football career he's had to wear one. Tate mentioned a performance a few years back when Adrian Peterson rushed for more than 200 yards with a brace on. The knee brace to Tate is more of a mental thing and he will wear it if the Browns medical staff suggests he should.
The coaching staff is thrilled with the production of their rapidly rising rookies. Still, from the beginning, Pettine and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery have made one thing crystal clear -- Tate is the starting running back.
That level of trust between a veteran player like Tate and a new coaching staff will be paramount to the Browns' success moving forward.
"It means that all that work I put in during the summer, obviously means something," said Tate of the coaches adamantly sticking by him. I think that's what is important – not to knock those guys but anyone can have a great game or two. It's how you put it together throughout the season. I think I've done that in this league. It's good for them to get that experience. I think it helps our room get better. As the position groups get better, that's only going to help our team."