Third-round draft pick Terrance West is making a legitimate push in training camp to win the Cleveland Browns' starting nod over veteran free-agent acquisition Ben Tate.
Brian Dulik of The Medina-Gazette provides comments from running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery, who spoke about the running back situation: “We all know talk is cheap, but right now, Ben is the guy.
“We brought in Ben Tate to be our starter, but we also targeted West as someone we liked, and we got him, too."
But that doesn't mean the organization hasn't been impressed with the flashes of excellence West has demonstrated so far in camp. Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel called him the Browns' most impressive rookie.
“I was a little shocked with Terrance today,” coach Mike Pettine said after the first practice of camp on Saturday, per August Fagerstrom and Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal—one that saw West nab multiple one-handed catches during receiving drills. “I had to double-check my roster card to make sure I was looking at the right number."
Kevin Jones of Browns.com snapped a shot of one of West's impressive catches.
West, who had 36 career receptions at Towson for 385 yards and two scores, will need to demonstrate versatility in the backfield to challenge Tate for the starting job. Tate had 34 receptions for 140 yards and no scores in addition to his 771 yards rushing and four touchdowns on the ground last season with Houston.
Emerging as a skilled pass-catcher could help West gain ground over Tate. According to Fagerstrom and Ulrich, Tate said Saturday that his coach at Towson regrets not using him more in the passing game and that he's "got great hands."
Of course, West is no slouch on the ground either, scoring an insane NCAA FCS-record 41 touchdowns for Towson in 2013.
By the conclusion of camp, expect Tate's NFL experience to give him the edge in the battle for the Week 1 start. He has five career 100-yard games (h/t Pro-Football-Reference.com), and Pettine acknowledged that he's ahead of West in the pass-protection aspect of the game, per Cleveland.com's Tom Reed.
Tate has also displayed great vision and toughness early on in camp.
When the Browns signed Tate to a two-year, $6.2 million deal in March, it was with the expectation that he would start. That appears to be holding true so far in camp, as Tate received the first snaps with the first-team offense Saturday, per Reed.
But if West's play continues to improve, he'll be earning his snaps come midseason, and Cleveland will have a legitimate one-two punch in its backfield.
The two backs' playing styles are complementary; with West's scoring propensity and compact build and Tate's downhill running style, they are sure to wreak havoc on opposing lines. And as West continues to develop his pass-protection skills and route running, he can begin to see some third-down snaps.
In addition to the passing game, if there's one area West can try and overtake Tate, it's in evading defenders downfield. Though Tate has demonstrated an ability to burst through the hole initially, he's not the league's crispest route-runner.
Expect serious production out of this duo in 2014. The Browns haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Peyton Hillis in 2010. They have two potential ones this season.