After spending his first four NFL seasons in Houston, mostly in a supporting role behind Arian Foster, Ben Tate signed a two-year, $6.2 million free-agent contract with Cleveland in March, instantly becoming the Browns' presumed lead back. But Cleveland, which finished 27th in rushing (86.4 ypg) with just four touchdowns on the ground in 2013 after trading Trent Richardson to Indianapolis in September, also drafted Towson University running back Terrance West in the third round this spring. The sturdily built rookie has flashed in both offseason workouts and early in training camp, but Tate remains confident that it’s his starting job and no one else’s. SI.com’s Don Banks caught up with Tate on Monday at Cleveland’s team complex in Berea, Ohio, where the Browns’ Manziel-centric training camp is underway.
SI.com: Given the Shanahan family’s history of churning out 1,000-yard running backs, was that part of your decision-making process to sign with Cleveland?
Tate: Definitely. This offense is something I think I can excel in. Like you said, they find their guy and they like to use him, and they use him to his strength. That’s just good coaching.
SI.com: As a runner, your strength is?
Tate: Everything. I feel like I have the power to run inside. I feel like I’m fast enough to get outside. I feel like I catch the ball pretty well. I feel like I’m a complete back. And I think I’m going to finally get the opportunity to showcase that this year.
SI.com: You shared playing time in Houston with a great back in Arian Foster. But here in Cleveland, they signed you and then drafted some competition for you in third-round running back Terrance West, who has been impressive. What are your impressions of his game so far?
Tate: Well, it’s still early on. We were in pads for the first time today. Football isn’t played in shirts and shorts, and a lot of people get a little excited about guys when they see them in just shirts and shorts. That’s not how football is played, and if it was, it’d be easy. But I think he can be a guy who can definitely help us out. Competition is always good and any good team has competition. I’m looking forward to him getting out there, learning how to do things and helping out his team.
SI.com: Other than your contract, why was Cleveland the right fit for this stage of your career?
Tate: With Cleveland it wasn’t about the contract, because there were other places where I could have gotten more money. Here I saw a better opportunity and I saw this team as a young team that was growing. As I’m hitting my stride and my prime, I saw this team has young guys like Joe Haden, Jordan Cameron, and Flash [Josh Gordon]. We have some guys who are all entering their prime, so I saw it as a great opportunity for me.
SI.com: What’s it like being at the epicenter of Manziel Mania?
Tate: It’s different. It’s crazy, and no disrespect to Johnny because he’s a great athlete and good football player for what he did at A&M, but when you turn the TV on and all you see is: "How did Johnny Football do today?" It’s not about the Browns. There are 70-80 other guys on this team. I guess the media, that’s the only thing they know how to say, Johnny Football.
SI.com: Does this team feel better about Brian Hoyer at quarterback than people on the outside looking in really know?
Tate: I think so. All you can do is go off that guy’s resume and what he’s put out there when he played. And he put some good things out there last year. So that’s all you can really go off of. He’s doing some good things in camp so far. And I think he’ll be good in this offense. So we’ll see what happens. I think either one of those guys can get the job done.
SI.com: Can you imagine what it will be like to be part of the first Browns team that truly wins big and returns this franchise to NFL relevance? Will you all be treated like kings?
Tate: Oh, man, it’ll be crazy around here. These fans are already crazy about this team, even though the last couple of seasons they’ve only won about four games a year. They still show such great support, and I guess this Cleveland area and Ohio are all about the Browns. If we could win and break through, it’d be huge around here. Absolutely huge.
SI.com: First day of working in full pads and it felt like late October football weather at practice, with cool, windy conditions and cloudy skies. Was that tough, or does it help get you ready for game days playing in the weather off the lake in Cleveland?
Tate: I was a little shocked by the weather today. Not used to that at the end of July and almost August. It felt like it was 60 degrees out here. I wasn’t ready for that. I prefer it to be a little warmer than that. When it get this cold, in between your reps you’ve got to keep moving around and keep stretching. In training camp you just want it hot enough so that you can take a rest between plays and then be ready to go. I don’t miss that Houston heat, because that is brutal about this time of year. But I definitely thought it’d be a lot warmer than this.