Browns camp competition: Running back

Ben Tate doesn’t see a ton of competition for the Cleveland Browns starting running back spot.

He clearly believes the job is his. In the offseason, Tate, who brings a bit of a 'tude to the arena after signing as a free agent, said there’s nobody in the running back room who scares him.

Interesting, because the Browns are tremendously high on rookie Terrance West. West begins camp on the non-football injury list because he failed his conditioning test, but he is expected to be working on Saturday -- along with several other NFI players.

Tate, by his own admission, is penciled in as the starter. But West showed a lot of quickness and ability to plant and hit the hole in offseason work. That may not sound like much, but in the zone blocking system that stretches a play out, being decisive in mind and action is important.

Tate and West, barring an injury, will be the Browns' running back hydra, with the starter determined by who is playing best when camp ends. Tate is ahead, West has the opportunity to catch up.

It almost seems like the Browns will enter camp preparing to use both backs a lot. When asked about the spot, coach Mike Pettine said he would be interested to see how it played out for the third back spot.

Edwin Baker, Isaiah Crowell and Dion Lewis figure to be the main competitors there.

Baker finished 2013 as the starter, which says something about the team’s dedication to the run game. Lewis was the story of training camp in 2013 before getting hurt. And Crowell caught the coach and GM’s eye in the offseason as an undrafted free agent.

The most encouraging thing is that the run game is being discussed as a viable, important part of the team. A year ago, it was, at best, an afterthought.

“I want to always have the ability to run the football,” Pettine said. “You’re in Northeast Ohio. Look at the division and a lot of your games are going to be played in not-so-great weather. If you run the ball well, that means you have a good offensive line, and if you have a good offensive line, you can also protect your quarterback.

“If you run the ball well, it also minimizes what the quarterback has to do. Put the best quarterbacks in the league constantly in third-and-7-plus, they’re not going to be among the best quarterbacks in the league anymore. If you put them in third-and-2 to third-and-5, you’re going to convert one heck of a lot more.”