Running Game Must Improve

This is the second part in a position-by-position breakdown of the Browns roster heading into training camp, which begins July 26.

Heading into the 2013 training camp it appeared that running back was one of the strongest and deepest positions on the Browns roster. Trent Richardson was healthy and coming off a rookie season where he was just shy of 1,000 yards and had scored double-digit touchdowns. Montario Hardesty was healthy with Dion Lewis and Brandon Jackson coming into to compete for backup roles.

However, that scenario changed drastically when Richardson was ineffective and traded after two games. Lewis and Hardesty were injured in the preseason and ultimately lost for the season. Jackson had been waived at the end of preseason and the team turned to Willis McGahee to be the featured back. McGahee had a dismal season averaging just 2.7 yards a carry, even though he led the team in rushing with just 377 yards. By the end of the season, Edwin Baker was brought in from the practice squad to carry the ball.

Overall, the Browns rushing attack was non-existent averaging just 86 yards a game that tied them for 27th in the NFL. There is no question the Browns front office made it a priority to upgrade the running back corps and they did so by signing Ben Tate in free agency and trading up to draft Terrance West.

Running Backs: Terrance West, Chris Ogbonnaya, Edwin Baker, Dion Lewis, Isaiah Crowell, Jourdan Brooks, Ben Tate, Ray Agnew

#20 Terrance West (5-10, 225, 23, Rookie, Towson St.)—The Browns traded up to select West ahead of the Ravens in the third round. It’s hard to be more productive than West was in college as he rushed for over 2,500 yards and scored 42 touchdowns just last season. West has impressed the coaching staff and is expected to push Ben Tate for playing time.

#25 Chris Ogbonnaya (6-0, 225, 28, 5th year, Texas) – Ogbonnaya has been able to hang on to a roster spot due to his versatility. Last year, Ogbonnaya was listed as the starting fullback and is still listed as a fullback on this year’s roster. Ogbonnaya will have his work cut out for him trying to impress his fourth head coach and will likely need to make a splash on special teams to stick. However, Ogbonnaya was the team’s second-leading rusher with 240 yards (4.9 avg.) and was also the third-leading receiver with 48 catches for 343 yards.

#27 Edwin Baker (5-8, 210, 23, 1st year, Michigan St.) – Baker got a late season opportunity due to injuries to the backs on the roster and tied for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with two. Baker carried the ball just 43 times for 171 yards (4.0 avg.)

#28 Dion Lewis (5-8, 195, 23, 4th year, Pitt) – Lewis was brought in by former CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi in a trade. Lewis was impressive in the early part of training camp in 2013 and appeared to be heavy in the team’s plans. However, a broken leg cost him the season on injured reserve and he faces an uphill battle with the Browns influx of talent at running back. His best shot might be as the kick returner.

#30 Isaiah Crowell (5-11, 225, Rookie, Alabama St.) – Crowell might be one of the bigger stories of training camp. The undrafted rookie was Freshman of the Year in the SEC with Georgia before running into legal trouble and finishing his career at Alabama State. Crowell flashed during the OTAs and minicamps and has a good chance of making the team, if nothing less than the practice squad.

#34 Jourdan Brooks (6-0, 237, Rookie, 25, 1st year, Morgan St.) – An undrafted rookie who will try to impress the coaching staff and find a spot on the practice squad.

#44 Ben Tate (5-10, 220, 25, 5th year, Auburn)— Tate was one of the biggest free agent signings by the Browns this off-season. Tate has been in the shadows of Arian Foster and is eager to prove he can be a workhorse back. Tate has had injury problems and he is hoping to become one of the top backs in the NFL. Tate has been productive when he’s been given the chance and nearly rushed for 1,000 yards with the Texans a couple seasons ago even though he shared time with Foster.

#48 Ray Agnew (5-10, 247, 23, Rookie, Southern Illinois) – Other than Ogbonnaya, who is listed as a fullback, Agnew is the only true fullback on the roster going into training camp. MarQueis Gray was used a lot in the OTAs and minicamps and Agnew will try to impress in training camp to make the team as an undrafted rookie free agent.

Summary: It would appear the Browns will rely on Tate and West to carry the load running the ball. Tate is motivated to be the bell cow and wants to show he can be one of the best backs in the NFL. Meanwhile, West has proven he can be a workhorse back as he carried the ball over 400 times last year, albeit in college. He will try to prove he can do so at the NFL level. If West can transition to the NFL level quickly he should push Tate for playing time.

The real battle would appear to be for the third and fourth spots. Crowell is intriguing and he will likely battle with Lewis, Baker and Ogbonnaya for a roster spot.

(Next: Wide receivers)

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