Ben Tate and Terrance West
Media and fan discussion about the competition for the Browns' starting running back spot will begin in earnest on July 26, when the team holds its first practice of training camp.
In the meantime, here are some thoughts about the impending battle between Ben Tate and Terrance West:
As one of the Browns' priority free-agent signings and with four years of NFL experience as a solid backup with the Houston Texans, Ben Tate enters camp as at least a slight favorite to win the starting job. When he was first signed, Tate had every reason to assume he was a shoo-in to become the Browns' No. 1 back because at the time there was no one approaching his talent level on the team. That dramatically changed when the Browns made Terrance West their third-round draft pick and added Isaiah Crowell as an undrafted free agent. West quickly emerged as a formidable challenger for the starting role. Before suffering an injury during rookie offseason practices, Crowell grabbed the attention of the coaching staff and is someone who could factor in the competition for a key backup role.
West hardly looks as if he'll have any issues making the transition from a small school, Towson, to the NFL. In fact, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if he ends up winning the starting job or at least getting a significant number of carries in what is expected to be a run-oriented offense. He' s more of a glider than a runner, showing remarkable nimbleness despite his powerful, 5-foot-9, 225-pound frame. West seems like a natural in the Browns' outside-zone-blocking scheme. He shows the necessary patience to allow gaps to form as the offensive line moves laterally and the necessary ability to plant a foot and explode through the hole. He's also big enough and strong enough to shake tacklers, but has the speed to tear away from them in the open field.
Tate is well-versed in the outside-zone scheme, having worked in it with the Texans, and it showed during offseason workouts. The Browns' version is a little different, although offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was influenced by former Texans coach Gary Kubiak when the two worked together in Houston (but not while Tate was there).
Tate should be highly motivated to have the best season of his career. For one thing, he is finally out of the shadow of Arian Foster, the star of the Texans' backfield, and has an opportunity to demonstrate what he can do as the No. 1 man at his position. For another, he knows West is good enough to give him all that he can handle, and that was something made clear by some of the trash-talking he has done expressing his confidence that he will win the competition. For yet another, his contract is loaded with performance-oriented incentives.
Crowell's off-field troubles prevented him from being drafted, but the guy has a great deal of talent. If he can stay healthy and focused, he has a chance to win at least the No. 3 spot. But he doesn't figure to have a whole lot of margin for error.
What about Dion Lewis? The start of last year's training camp has become somewhat of a forgotten man. His ultra-quick, ultra-elusive running style generated plenty of excitement that suddenly vanished when he suffered a season-ending broken leg in the preseason. Lewis has fully recovered and ran pretty well during offseason workouts. But the Browns' new offense doesn't suit his skills nearly as well as last year's version. And Lewis, whom the Browns landed in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, no longer has the support of the two people primarily responsible for acquiring him, former Browns CEO and Eagles president Joe Banner and former Browns general manager Michael Lombardi. If Lewis sticks as a backup, his primary contribution will likely come in the form of catching passes out of the backfield.
Chris Ogbonnaya's best chance of securing a roster spot as a fullback is showing that he is the best blocker among the backs in camp. His ability to run helps, but he has to show the coaches that he is money when it comes to picking up the blitz. Whether that will be enough to allow him to stick around is uncertain. Ray Agnew has a chance, but what will be interesting is how much the Browns end up using hybrid tight end MarQuise Gray at fullback.
Edwin Baker will be hard-pressed to gain the coaches' attention, especially with so much focus on two starting-quality players in Tate and West, and the specialty role that Lewis has a decent chance of securing. >>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET, for "Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford" on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com. We take your questions at 216-578-0850 and via Twitter @Browns_Daily.