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Mike Pettine sees youth as a positive in Browns backfield

Mike Pettine would be concerned if there was similar youth at some of the Browns' other position groups, but the relative inexperience among Cleveland's running backs isn't affecting his sleep.

Outside of re-signing Shaun Draughn, who did not receive a carry in 2014, the Browns didn't add to their running back room in free agency. The group got even younger after the draft with the selection of Miami's Duke Johnson (21), who will join the tandem of Isaiah Crowell (22) and Terrance West (24) to create one of the youngest running back trios in the NFL.

Pettine's confidence in the group stems from his belief that he'll see improved performance from Crowell and West on top of immediate production from Johnson, a speedy, change-of-pace running back who is just as much of a threat in the passing game.

"That's a position you feel guys can come in and contribute early," Pettine said Friday at the Browns Foundation's annual golf outing. "Running back's not a position where it's, 'hey, it's going to take three years for a guy to truly hit. We're fully confident in (running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery) and (offensive coordinator John DeFilippo) to get those guys coached up.

"It's a bit of concern, the youth, but it's also a positive as well because we know we've got fresh legs."

Crowell and West went through their respective ups and downs throughout the 2014 season, but the results, as a whole, were encouraging.

The rookie duo combined for 1,280 yards and 12 touchdowns on 319 carries. Each had their set of highlights -- West delivering big-time performances in Cleveland's season opener and season finale; Crowell's two-touchdown performance at Atlanta -- while also experiencing the growing pains that come with being a rookie in the NFL. West and Crowell both had games in which they either weren't active or did not receive a single carry.

The offseason has been productive for both and each have shown enough positive signs to garner Pettine's endorsement during the thick of the Browns' offseason workout program. But there's still plenty for both to prove.

"It's a little bit easier now when there's no adversity," Pettine said. "It's the test when things aren't going well. We talk about it all the time with our guys, demonstration of mental toughness. That usually is tested in the middle of the season."

That's when it hit hardest for West, who gained 100 yards in his NFL debut only to be placed on the inactive list in Week 4 and subsequently struggle in multiple games during the heart of the season. West wrapped up his rookie season with the kind of performance Pettine and the Browns envisioned when the team moved up to select the Towson product in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft. In front of a number of friends and family in his native Baltimore, West ran for 94 yards and a touchdown in the Browns' loss to the Ravens.

In a recent interview, Pettine said West had untapped potential. He elaborated on that statement Friday.

"He's shown it in practice and he certainly showed it on his college tape that he's capable of being a legitimate NFL starter," Pettine said. "As with a lot of rookies, it was just a consistency thing. As he begins to get it, and he gets the playbook nailed down in Year 2, we're looking for big things from him."

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