The NFL is a next man up league. Rookie Terrance West has found that out quickly in the early portion of his professional career.
On Wednesday, Browns head coach Mike Pettine announced running back Ben Tate will miss some time with a sprained knee. West has been chosen as Tate's replacement in the starting lineup.
In his first-ever NFL game last Sunday, West gashed the Pittsburgh Steelers for 100 yards on 16 carries. Cleveland's 183 total rushing yards were the most since November of 2010.
Flanking West will be fellow rookie Isaiah Crowell, who has been flying off the fantasy football waiver wire. Crowell pounded two touchdowns into the end zone and ran with authority against Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's illustrious scheme.
The Browns were thrilled with how West and Crowell answered the bell when their number was called. Now comes the real challenge. Since the Saints have regular season game tape to study the pair of rookies, their skills won't come as a surprise. Honing in on a solid week of practice and studying the equally as complex New Orleans defense will be imperative.
"It was encouraging, but they need to be able to take the next step," said Pettine of West and Crowell. "This will be another challenge for them. To go against this type of defense that nothing either one of those guys have seen before. It'll be a good test for them. I think [running backs coach] Wilbert Montgomery has done a good job with that group. They were obviously prepared for the Pittsburgh game to step in play. And we're hopeful it'll be more of the same this week."
Pettine described West as a running back who wants to make defenders miss with his shifty cuts and clever eye-sight. The Browns would like to see West recognize more often when to choose the right time to bust open a big run, but they know that's something only learned in live game reps.
Crowell received praise from Pettine for being a slasher who seeks out contact from weary linebackers and finishes runs with a full-head of steam.
"[Crowell] is a guy, that if you polled defensive backs to make a list of guys they want to tackle, I don't think he makes that list," said Pettine. "He can square up and he runs very low to the ground. He has great acceleration and great burst."
Pettine wants to see West and Crowell evolve into complete backs. The little details matter in the NFL. How well the pair adjusts to playing regularly on third-downs will be in the spotlight.
On certain third-down plays in the Browns offense, the running back has a blocking responsibility to pick up one or two players on a blitz. It'll be up to West and Crowell to identify if the player they are assigned to is or isn't blitzing. If they aren't going in to attack quarterback Brian Hoyer, they'll need to quickly react and go out for a passing route. Making the right reads in these situations will be preached all week long in Berea.
"It's not just the blocking part of it," said Pettine. "It's the awareness and the graduate level details of the job. A big part of our success on Sunday will be predicated on how well we can identify what they are in."
Pettine confirmed the Browns did not reach out to former players Chris Ogbonnya or Dion Lewis to add insurance with Tate being sidelined. Reserve Glenn Winston might be active this week, depending on the Browns' other injury situations.
The bottom line is that circumstances in the NFL are always in flux. Good coaches build reputations as great ones by putting rookie players like West and Crowell in the right places to succeed.
"Conditions will never be ideal," said Pettine. "It'll be rare when you go out there with the same roster week-in and week-out because of injuries and that's life in the NFL.