Running the football in today's NFL takes commitment.
There are temptations for teams to ditch the running game for the allure of throwing the ball in abundance. Teams pay quarterbacks $100-million contracts. Owners and fans want to see deep touchdown passes and fantasy points. Churning out 4.3 yards per carry just isn't sexy anymore.
There's no denying professional football is now a passing league. But it's easy for some teams to fall into the trap of thinking they are a throwing team, but not actually having the proper equipment to succeed that way. For most NFL teams, passing the ball 40 times a game is actually fool's gold.
The Cleveland Browns aren't going to try and fool anybody in 2014. They will be a run-first football team. Commitment to running the ball may not be popular, but it can work.
Ask the early 2000s Ravens. Ask the late 2000s Jets. Ask last season's Seahawks. When done correctly, it's a recipe for success. If your defense is strong enough to lock down the end zone, and the Browns think theirs is, an effective run game will make opponents play Cleveland's style instead of theirs.
Before we preview Ben Tate and Terrance West, let's play a little numbers game to prove this claim.
The Browns running game since 2008.
*Ball carriers with less than 250 yards were not included
Jerome Harrison, Jamal Lewis, Josh Cribbs
Peyton Hillis, Montario Hardesty,
Trent Richardson, Montario Hardesty
Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya
Kyle Shanahan running backs since 2008
*Ball carriers with less than 250 yards were not included
Steve Slaton, Ryan Moats, Chris Brown, Arian Foster
Ryan Torain, Keiland Williams
Roy Helu, Tim Hightower, Evan Royster
Alfred Morris, Robert Griffin III
Alfred Morris, Robert Griffin, Roy Helu
Averaging the numbers from 2008-2013
Yards per carry – Browns: 3.98, Shanahan: 4.33
Attempts per season for main ball carriers – Browns: 304, Shanahan: 351
Total touchdowns for main ball carriers – Browns: 33, Shanahan: 57
Debunking some myths
Kyle Shanahan only uses one workhorse running back. *False. The Texans rode a plethora of running backs with different styles in 2009, just missing the playoffs at 9-7. The Redskins plugged in the hot hand in 2010 and 2011. If the coordinator sees someone with talent, he'll find a way to use him.
The read-option running game was ineffective in 2013. *False. The Redskins moved the football last season; they just couldn't find the end zone and had to overcome a suspect defense. Alfred Morris would've gone for even more yardage but Washington was throwing the ball often in the second half while playing catch-up. Plus, Mike Pettine has reiterated how tough it is to prepare for the read-option.
Size: 5-foot-10, 220 pounds
Last season: 14 games, 7 starts, 181 carries, 771 rushing yards, 4 TD's* *
Strengths: Powerful, strong lower body, can kick it into second gear.
Question mark: He's never been the number one guy
Quotable: "If I come in here and say, 'Oh, I've got this locked down,' and don't compete, that's how you lose your job. That's how you find your way out of the league fast. I'm a natural competitor."
Ben Tate is big in all aspects of his life.
His personality is vocal and confident. He isn't afraid to run straight over defensive lineman with his bruising style and size. But what's big beyond measurement, is how badly Ben Tate wants to carry the torch.
The last time an offense solely relied on Tate's skillset as a feature back was at Auburn in 2009. He's giddy for his chance to put his mark on a thirsty Cleveland backfield in desperate need of some juice.
"I'm a natural competitor, so to me, competing is nothing," said Tate of having to earn the starting spot. "No matter if you think it's a real competition or not, you always have to try and outdo the guy behind you."
When you watch Tate's body of work with the Texans, you notice this about him: for a bigger back, he can kick it into second-gear. Tate won't have many six or seven yard runs. Once he gets into the second level of a defense, he has home-run hitting potential.
In 2013, Tate reeled off a 60-yard touchdown on the third play of the game against the Titans, completely altering the tone of the game. He finished the season with 19 carries for 10-yards or more, a number to be proud of for a backup. Tate does have experience in the zone running scheme that Houston kept in place once Shanahan left.
The running back competition will be the toughest to judge until the actual preseason games start. Training camp may be more physical than minicamp, but it still won't simulate a live game like passing plays will.
Regardless, know this: Tate expects to shine.
Size: 5-foot-10, 225 pounds
Last season: 16 games, 413 carries, 2,509 rushing yards, 41 touchdowns
Strengths: Patient runner, workhorse, great balance.
Question mark: Will he be as effective as a backup?
Quotable: "Some of the greatest players to ever play the game came from small schools. I look forward to the challenge of proving people wrong, again."
Statistically speaking, Terrance West was essentially the Duke Johnson Jr. of the FCS. Towson didn't even try and fool opponents. They gave the ball to West all game, sometimes even on third-and-long.
Although West and Tate are nearly identical in size, they run differently. West stands more up-right, and uses his massive shoulders to knock back would-be tacklers. West uses his feet more on quick cuts and looked terrific on misdirection plays in the spring.
Like Tate, West is assured about his talent. Reporters will ask West all throughout training camp how he is adjusting to the vastness of the NFL. And his response will remain the same.
"It doesn't matter where you come from: football is football," said West.
When the Browns snuck up the draft board and selected West, a rival team was reportedly upset. Many foresee West being a sleeper candidate to have a break out season. There's been nothing but positive comments from the entire coaching staff about how hard West practices and gets after it in the weight room.
At this very moment, it seems as if West's potential is too bright to keep him on the bench. He'll certainly push Tate to the brink, if both are on their A games.
That's exactly what the Browns want: an all-out deliberation in August about which of these running backs should start.