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Terrance West wakes up just in time for Browns

CLEVELAND -- If you want proof the Cleveland Browns were expecting Terrance West to take more ownership of the running back position and the reason they believed in his talent, this should clue you in.

Jim Brown talks to West every Saturday. Every Saturday, West hears the same thing from the Hall of Famer: Control what you can control.

“We talk all the time,” West said in the locker room after the Browns’ 22-17 win Sunday over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “He knows what I can do.”

What West can do was never the issue. The third-round rookie out of Towson always had ability. What he wasn’t doing -- the small things that contribute to winning, earning trust, humbling himself -- was the problem.

That’s why his most important performance, a modest 48 yards on 15 carries along with a 2-yard touchdown reception Sunday, didn't have to be the flashiest.

West is earning the coaches’ trust back, as evidenced by a crucial cut block on Bucs linebacker Lavonte David’s blitz to buy quarterback Brian Hoyer a few seconds on his 34-yard touchdown toss to Taylor Gabriel that sealed the game.

Without the block, “we’re definitely not throwing a touchdown,” Hoyer said.

These are the plays West has been trying to refine since coaches placed him on the inactive list for a Week 6 win over Pittsburgh. The Browns have no problem sending a message. West had rushed for 204 yards and three scores in the first three games.

The benching “brought me back to where I needed to be,” said the man with an ESPN logo tattooed on his neck.

“This league will pass you on,” West said he realized. “Teams will win or lose without you.”

The Browns appear ready to go West, who on Sunday was part of the two-man running back rotation in a backfield with three talented ones.

West carried 15 times to Ben Tate’s 10 carries for 3 yards, a curious downward trend for the free-agent signee. Tate combined for 202 yards in Weeks 5 and 6 but has averaged 1.58 yards per carry since.

Not that West was much better (19 yards on 12 carries the previous two weeks before the Tampa Bay game), but the Browns have made clear they want a player to grab the job and break off a string of positive runs to lessen the burden on Hoyer.

West appears up for the challenge. Why Isaiah Crowell isn’t in that conversation is difficult to decipher. He scored four touchdowns in the first five games. He’s clearly explosive. But coaches swear each week is determined by practice performances. West’s practice work showed when he kept taking plays “that were blocked for one or two [yards] and he gained five or six,” coach Mike Pettine said.

“We thought those two had really earned it -- Terrance especially during the week. I thought he had the best week of practice,” Pettine said.

West keeps going back to a crucial third-and-1 he didn’t convert in a Jacksonville loss. He danced instead of going downhill. “Just go straight for the yards,” said West, who now knows he’s not in Towson.

Not only is West going north-south, his blitz pickup was also a momentum-changing play. David tried to fake West off the block, so “I pretended I didn’t see him and, at the last second, just chopped up,” West said.

“Taking care of the small things,” West said. “You control everything.”

The way the first eight games have gone, the Browns could go with 76 different running back combinations for their next game -- Thursday in Cincinnati -- and it wouldn’t surprise. But the way West is trending, he’ll be in the conversation weekly.