Browns need Tate to be three-down back

BEREA, Ohio -- It is no secret that a young quarterback’s best friend can be a reliable, productive running game (and a sure-handed tight end). If Brian Hoyer is going to have that, it will be up to Ben Tate to provide it.

One of the more interesting roster cuts the Cleveland Browns made over the weekend was waiving running back Dion Lewis, whom they acquired in a trade with Philadelphia prior to the 2013 season. It’s not that Lewis is a game-changing back. He isn’t. A fifth-round draft pick in 2011 out of Pittsburgh, Lewis missed all of last season after breaking his left fibula in a preseason game.

But during training camp, Browns coach Mike Pettine praised Lewis for his ability to gain yards on critical third downs. It was thought that for that reason alone Lewis would likely make the team.

He didn’t, and as of Monday, the Browns are going with Tate and three rookies: Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell and Glenn Winston, whom they claimed off waivers from San Francisco.

After primarily serving as Arian Foster's backup for four years in Houston, Tate signed a two-year deal for $6.1 million to be Cleveland’s primary rusher. That apparently means on third downs, too.

Asked Sunday if he is comfortable with Tate’s ability to turn third downs into first downs, Pettine said, “We are."

“He’s ahead of those guys, and I think he’s been solid in protection,” Pettine said. “I think he does a nice job catching the ball. I would think that he has the edge over those guys as far as third down. That’s not saying they won’t be there, but he’s ... probably the guy you can trust the most right now would be Ben.”

Pettine better hope so. Given the collection of unproven receivers on the roster and Hoyer’s inexperience, the Browns are going to need a solid running game that can keep the chains moving.