Cleveland Browns running back Ben Tate (44) runs the ball against cornerback Joe Haden (23) during team drills at the NFL football team's training camp in Berea, Ohio, Sunday, July 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
BEREA, Ohio– When the pads start popping on Monday, one of the more interesting battles will start to take shape.
Ben Tate was signed as an unrestricted free agent this past off-season to be the featured running back. However, the Browns traded up to select Terrance West in the third round of the NFL Draft in May.
Tate (5-10, 220) has just nine career starts in his first three NFL seasons and is hoping to break out in 2014.
Tate said he’s ready for the challenge.
"I think so," Tate said. "That’s coach Shanahan’s philosophy, to run the ball. That’s the way this offense works. For us, running the ball to be very important to be effective."
In 2013, Tate played in 14 games, including seven starts. He rushed for 771 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. He played with cracked ribs and missed just two games.
In Tate’s rookie season in 2011, he had his best year he carried the ball 175 times for 942 yards (5.4 avg.), including four touchdowns, despite getting just two starts. His career average is 4.7. Last year, he also caught 34 passes for 140 yards.
The Browns are committed to running the ball and Tate is a big part of those plans.
"I think it’s been proven I know if you look at what we did in the off-season with the improvement at running back and some of the moves we made up front, we’re still going to have the ability to throw the football," Mike Pettine said. "We’re not going to put one wide receiver out there and go two tight ends.
"We want to be an efficient offense whether it’s running or passing," Pettine said. "We’re not going to just say it’s a run. It’s a league when you’re unpredictable, that’s when you’re the most successful when you’re throwing when people think you’re running and vice versa.
"I think you have to have the ability to run the football," he said. "You get a lead you can end the game or when it’s bad weather and you can’t throw it you have to be able to move the football."
Tate was the backup to Arian Foster for three seasons and he knows in the NFL, you have to have depth. West has shown early in practices that he might be good.
"We’ll see as we go you," Tate said. "You always need more than one guy. We might need three guys. You don’t really know. It all depends on how we come together offensively. You really never know. We’ll dictate that as a team as time goes on."
Tate thinks when the pads go on, players will begin to really show what they can do.
"Football is all about playing in pads," he said. "Football is not played in shorts."
"It’s still early," he said. "Day one, everyone is anxious, but the cream will start rising to the top. When guys get tired and when we get into the preseason games– that’s what really matters. The team isn’t made in the first two days."
Hoyer Sharp: QB Brian Hoyer was very sharp in the second day of practice. Hoyer hit on a couple of long passes in excess of 40 yards to WR Taylor Gabriel and WR Anthony Armstrong.
Overall, it appeared that Hoyer had a better second day than the first day. Pettine was asked if he thought Hoyer was a little anxious the first day of camp.
"I think it’s just human nature to be a little flighty coming off an injury," Pettine said. "He’s getting used to a lot of big bodies flying around back there.
"He would have to be a robot to not be affected," he said. "I’m sure there was a lot going on in his head."
Hoyer has been taking most of the reps with the first team, which means he’s throwing to the veteran receivers most of the time.
Pettine was asked if QB Johnny Manziel will get more reps with the first team.
"Players are off Wednesday and we’ll evaluate then."
Inside Battle: Pettine was asked what was going on in the inside linebacker position battle between LB Craig Robertson and rookie LB Chris Kirksey opposite of LB Karlos Dansby.
"Competition," he said. "We got Kirksey and Robertson there. We’ll even put (Karlos) Dansby in there a little and will do a little bit of cross training."
Gray Returns: TE MarQueis Gray returned to practice after passing his conditioning test. He missed the first day of practice on the non-football/injury list. Gray, although listed as a tight end, practiced most of the time with the running backs/fullbacks.
Pettine was asked if he thought if Gray would stay with the running backs.
"We’re hopeful," he said. "Anytime you have a versatile player with a history of a receiver skill set. When there’s a true fullback in the game when a guy who is in it restricts the call sheet. It’s when a hybrid guy is in there it can cause problems."
Off Day for Thomas: Pro Bowl OL Joe Thomas was given a scheduled day of rest and Pettine said he’s earned it.
"Joe Thomas is one of our veteran guys that will periodically have a day off," Pettine said. "There will be scheduled days off for some of the veteran guys."
Still Out: Besides OL Jason Pinkston, OL John Greco, DL Phil Taylor, TE Gary Barnidge, K Jake Rogers and DL Billy Winn remain on the active non-football/injury list. Joining those players on the sideline was rookie WR Chandler Jones.
Pettine said that Taylor is rehabbing from an injury, but gave no timetable for his return.
Johnny’s Shoes: Everything about QB Johnny Manziel is flashy–even his shoes. Manziel came out on the field before practice with neon yellow/green shoes causing a buzz.
However, before practice started he switched to is standard-issued shoes.
Pettine was asked if Manziel was asked to change them.
"I’m a black shoe, black sock guy," Pettine said. "It’s team issued gear. Calvin Barnett came out yesterday wearing Oklahoma State socks and even though they were orange, that lasted about a day."
Pads Popping: Monday is the first scheduled day of full pads practice. Pettine said he’s looking forward to it.
"I want to be able to hear the practice," he said. "You want to be able to hear the pads popping when we’re getting after each other. That to me, is what’s been missing to master the aspects with the pads on."
Number Change: Rookie RB Isaiah Crowell switched jersey numbers from 30 to 34.
Quick Hits: WR Charles Johnson continues to impress as he made a couple of nice catches, one a leaping grab of a high pass…DB Josh Aubrey dropped a pass that would’ve been an interception from QB Johnny Manziel…Manziel threw a laser pass to WR Miles Austin after mishandling the snap on a pass play…WR Josh Gordon ran with the third team on occasion as the Browns anticipate losing him to a NFL suspension looming as early as next week.