BEREA — A popular theory outside Browns headquarters is that rookie third-round pick Terrance West will push free agent pickup Ben Tate for the starting running back job.
Tate scoffed at the notion.
“Honestly, I’m not worried about that because I know when I’m on my game — I respect every running back here — but there’s nobody that can really touch me or is close to what I do,” Tate said Thursday after the final practice of minicamp. “So honestly, I’m not worried really about that. I battled in and out every day with what some people consider the best running back in the league — Arian Foster. I’ve seen the best. I went against him every day. I battled it. So this around here to me is really not anything.”
Tate signed a two-year, $6.2 million deal with Cleveland, leaving Houston to get out of the shadow of, and same backfield as, Foster. Tate — who rushed for 1,992 yards and a 4.7 average in three years with the Texans — did so with the belief he’d become the feature back, and doesn’t plan on letting a rookie from Towson University get in his way.
He said he doesn’t consider it a competition with West.
“Truthfully, I don’t look at it like that,” Tate said. “You guys may see it like that, but like I said, when I know what I’m doing, what I’m supposed to do, there’s nobody in that room that scares me. I’m just honest.
“Competition is a healthy thing. If I come in here and say, ‘I got this locked down’ and don’t compete, that’s how you lose your job. That’s how you find your way out of the league fast. I’m a natural competitor. That’s just in me. I hope all the other running backs want to compete as well as a group, that’s how we’re going to get better as a unit. We want to have one of the best units in the NFL.”
West rushed for 2,509 yards and 41 touchdowns as a senior at Towson and doesn’t lack for confidence. He believes he can challenge Tate for the job.
“That’s our job out here, to come out here and compete, push each and everyone forward to bring the best out of each other,” he said. “That’s what I’m here to do. I want to play. I want to be the starter, and I’m going to practice like a starter.”
Tate’s quotes sound dismissive, but both backs said the veteran is helping the rookie learn the ropes.
“He’s a rookie, so he has his difficult moments,” said Tate, who was limited in camp with a minor injury. “He has his flashes of good moments, so right now I’m just there trying to help him out through every aspect of his game because this team is going to need both of us and I feel he can definitely be a good, quality running back. I’m a team guy so I’m trying to help everybody out — not just him.”
IN THIS CORNER
Guard Garrett Gilkey stood out at minicamp, and not just because of his brawl Wednesday with nose tackle Phil Taylor that included hair-pulling.
Gilkey worked with the first-team offense all three days — the first two at right guard and Thursday on the left side. Veteran John Greco and rookie second-round pick Joel Bitonio are expected to be the opening-day starters, but coach Mike Pettine said Gilkey is in the mix.
“I’m absolutely confident in it,” Gilkey said of his shot to start. “I’ve been fortunate enough to run with the ones the last two weeks. It’s a matter of consistency and confidence.
“This offensive line, whoever’s in the starting lineup, is going to be one of the most elite offensive lines in the country.”
Gilkey, a seventh-round pick out of Chadron State last season, found himself with the starters following an ankle injury to Bitonio, who was taken with the No. 35 pick and is a favorite of the front office and staff. Gilkey, Bitonio, Greco and free agent acquisition Paul McQuistan are the candidates for the two guard spots.
“I’m already seeing myself progress and improve because of the competition,” Gilkey said. “I know that goes full-circle with the other guys in the room.”
Gilkey played in three games at left guard last year, including a start in the finale.
“It was baptism by fire,” he said. “The game wisdom and game experience you accumulate is priceless.”
Gilkey led the team in skirmishes in the offseason practices, and isn’t afraid to admit it.
“Absolutely. With my personality off the field it’s hard for people to disassociate the two things,” he said. “I always try to convey that when I put on the helmet I’m a different person. I have to be, that’s the truth. It’s what allows me to be successful.
“In the NFL the battles between the offensive and defensive lines, it’s the most physical environment outside something in the military. We’re modern-day gladiators.”
The fight between Gilkey and Taylor lasted a couple of rounds and included several punches.
“It did last longer and I think it’s the competitive nature in both of us,” Gilkey said. “I think it’s a good spirit in both of us and it means we’re not going to give up.
“The reality is toward the ends of camps and OTAs guys tempers are going to be at their limits. When the pressure and the heat is on, especially with the competition we have here, you’re more susceptible to getting into a scuffle like that. Phil is a great competitor, great player and great guy. His presence in the locker room means a lot to the guys, it means a lot to me. It’s easy for people in the media to see something like that on the field and assume it transcends into the locker room, but it doesn’t. I have a good relationship with Phil and I have respect for him and I’m confident he has respect for me.”
Gilkey attributed the hair-pulling to the length of his red locks and said he’s considering getting them cut before training camp. He hasn’t had more than a trim in four years.
“As it’s gotten longer, even just blocking, it’s become a hazard,” he said. “I think I’m going to come in with a bang and the style is going to be unique and I’m hoping to make a splash.”
Pettine expects any news regarding a possible suspension of receiver Josh Gordon to come before training camp. When Gordon was suspended last year for the first two games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, the news was released following minicamp.
The NFL doesn’t have a set schedule for such announcements, but it could come at any time. ESPN reported last month that Gordon faces a possible indefinite suspension after failing a marijuana test.
“We haven’t been given a date,” Pettine said. “But I think in fairness to us that the league would let us know. There’s no information as far as their plans to release it, but I think we’re all comfortable thinking we should know before training camp starts.”
Mike Pettine Sr., Pettine’s dad and a legendary high school coach in Pennsylvania, was an interested observer throughout minicamp.
“He’s been watching some of the practice tape so we had — I don’t want to call it heated — but an Italian conversation before practice, he, I and Coach (Jim) O’Neil (defensive coordinator),” Pettine said. “It’s great to have him here. It’s just another guy not necessarily who’s immersed in the scheme, but I always say it’s nice to get the 30,000-foot view sometimes, instead of when you’re deep in it, where he can make some comments.
“A lot of times I tell him, it’s sometimes how you say it, how you package it. Usually the content is accurate, but sometimes my defenses go up when he delivers the message the way he delivers it.”
- The Browns claimed tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) off waivers from Miami. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2013 by the Redskins out of Georgia State.
- The veterans were dismissed, but the rookies have another week at Browns headquarters, then the NFL rookie symposium.
- When Pettine is done for the offseason, he will make the most of his vacation. “What I’ve found is when you have time off to take it and to get out of town,” he said. “So don’t look here for me. I will be out and about.”