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Terrance West Finding Success Back Home With Ravens

December 15, 2016
The Ravens opened their Dec. 4 game against the Miami Dolphins in typical 2016 fashion, using their no-huddle offense and a good mix of plays to barrel down the field toward the goal line.

Quarterback Joe Flacco used several different targets to exploit the middle of the Miami defense as he attempted to get his team off to yet another fast start.

But on first-and-goal from the Dolphins' 3, Flacco knew there was one person he could count on.

Receiver Mike Wallace, a former Dolphin eager to make a mark against his old team? Wallace lined up as part of a bunch formation on the left side, so surely, a slant pass -- a frequent Ravens red-zone tool -- would be going to him.

Or fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who was brought in pre-snap motion to the right? No doubt Flacco would use his frequent safety valve on a pass in the flat.

At the snap, Miami defensive end Mario Williams, an 11-year NFL veteran who has likely seen everything a team can possibly run in that situation, crashed hard toward the pocket, hoping to catch Flacco all alone or, at the very least, prevent the pass to Juszczyk from gaining much, if at all.

But before Williams could reverse his field, a short pass floated its way out to running back Terrance West, the former Northwestern High and Towson University product, who romped untouched into the end zone for the score that would ignite the Ravens' best offensive performance of the year to-date, a 38-6 demolition of the Dolphins.

"It feels amazing," West said. "What was the score? We were trying to get to 40 [points]. Everything was just clicking, and like I said before, the offensive line did a great job.

"My last touchdown was a walk-in, but also the offensive line blocked, and the wide receivers blocked down-field."

Just as he opened the scoring, West later closed it with a flawless 9-yard end run -- his second two-touchdown game of the year, following one against the New York Giants -- as the worn-out Dolphins simply couldn't keep up. 

However, there have been times during West's own career when many wondered the same thing about him.

But West, who turns 26 Jan. 28, has indeed been there when the Ravens needed him, which hasn't always been the case when he was with other teams during his still-nascent pro career.

The 5-foot-10, 225-pound West looked like a man playing against boys while at Towson, leading the Tigers to the 2013 Football Championship Subdivision title game. 

That season, West gained 2,509 yards and scored 41 touchdowns, as he not only led his school to postseason glory but set a future template for a program that has since prospered with the likes of Darius Victor and Shane Simpson manning the same position.

A 2014 Cleveland third-round pick (94th overall), West led the Browns in rushing with 673 yards, fourth-most among NFL rookies. It seemed as if nothing could stop an inevitable rise to the top, even at a position that has been devalued in recent years by a pass-happy trend. 

But questions about his work ethic and fitness abounded, and he was traded to the Tennessee Titans before the 2015 season. After playing in two games and fumbling twice, he wound up with the Ravens in what many observers felt could be his last chance to stay in the NFL. 

That might seem like a strange assessment for someone so young, but in today's salary cap world -- and with the Ravens trying to rebuild off last year's 5-11 season -- there are few, if any, teams that are going to have the patience to deal with someone who carries West's baggage. 

But West more than carried his weight last year, getting into six games with the Ravens and showing flashes of his capability with a 3.9 yards-per-carry average, adding four catches for 21 more yards. 

West had a solid preseason and watched himself slowly climb up the depth chart, benefiting from Lorenzo Taliaferro's injury problems, the underachievement of Trent Richardson and Stephen Houston, and, after three regular-season games, the release of veteran starter Justin Forsett.

As a result, West appeared in each of the Ravens' first 12 games, starting nine of them, and looks to be on track to play in all 16 regular-season contests for the first time in his career. His six touchdowns through the season's first three quarters led the team.

Hoping for a more multi-dimensional look from the backfield, the Ravens have attempted to have fourth-round rookie change-of-pace back Kenneth Dixon work in tandem with West; the two have effectively split carries since Dixon returned from missing the season's first four weeks with a knee injury suffered during the preseason.

Having competed against enough demons during his career, West has taken the situation well, according to head coach John Harbaugh.

"Well, you watch it. Don't you think he has?" Harbaugh said. "I think he has. I actually would say he has gotten better. He is improving. He is a young player. Both of those two guys have improved really every single outing and every single day at practice in a lot of little ways. To me, they are both playing at a high level."

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg agreed.

"The backs, they are doing a heck of a job," he said. "They are gaining an extra yard. All the great backs, they always seem to get 2 extra [yards], make that first guy miss about 40, 50 percent of the time. They are always gaining extra yards, and then, every now and then, hit the big one. Our backs certainly look good."

The outlook for West certainly looks good, as he has had the kind of season that seems to have put to rest all the distractions from his past.

"I limited all the distractions," West said during training camp. "I just had two daughters. I have a son, too, so I have three kids. I just limit all my distractions and focus on football first, then my family. While I'm in camp, I just focus on football." 

Through 12 games, West had 650 yards rushing, a mere 23 shy of his career high set with the Browns, and also chipped in with 19 receptions and a receiving touchdown. These days, West is carrying the football instead of the baggage.

"Like I've said before, take one play at a time, don't overthink things," West said. "Never get too big; never get too low. Stay level and just play hard."

Joe Platania  has been covering professional football since 1994.  

Issue 228: December 2016