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Towson star Terrance West joins Ravens with hopes of putting rocky NFL start behind him

Ravens running back Terrance West talks about why he decided to sign with the Ravens upon his release from the Titans. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

Terrance West is still a young man but not so young that he's ignorant to the cruel math of the NFL — one player's misfortune begets another's opportunity.

West, a homegrown star who signed with the Ravens as a practice squad running back earlier this month, is a guy in need of a fresh chance. And now he has one because Justin Forsett, last season's opportunistic team MVP, broke his arm Sunday and is out for the rest of the season.

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This could be a pivotal week in West's career. Not only is he likely to play his first snaps for the Ravens on Monday night, the Baltimore product will do so in Cleveland, the city where his first NFL opportunity flamed out.

It's hardly a juncture West thought he'd reach less than two years after his last game at Towson, where he was one of the greatest players in program history.

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Though he's only 24, he might already be running low on NFL chances.

The Browns traded up to pick him in the third round of the 2014 draft but dumped him less than a year later for a conditional seventh-round pick. West then lasted two games in Tennessee before the Titans, another last-place team, released him.

Browns coach Mike Pettine said he liked West personally and saw real potential in him as an all-around back, but not enough to outweigh West's immaturity.

"With Terrance, it was just the accountability, the day-to-day practice habits, being a pro," Pettine said Wednesday. "It was unfortunate, because Terrance is a likable guy. We just felt at the time it was in both of our best interest to move on."

West, however, felt Pettine saw his naturally ebullient demeanor and mistook it for goofing off.

"He didn't understand my personality," the former Towson star said. "I've been the same since I was a kid. I'm a positive person. I don't get in trouble. I don't get arrested. No failed drug tests. No missed meetings. Stuff like that, being a professional, I was good. But me joking around with the team, just talking trash on the field, that's me. That's who I am."

West is obviously bothered by the narrative that's taken hold regarding his time in Cleveland.

"I'm respectful," he said. "They can never say I'm disrespectful or a knucklehead, nothing like that. It's a misunderstanding. It's overblown, man. Overblown."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh declined to go into detail breaking down West's strengths and weaknesses but said he will likely play against the Browns behind new starter Buck Allen.

"He'll definitely get an opportunity," Harbaugh said. "[He has] practiced well for us since he has been here and is learning the offense. He doesn't have it all probably 100 percent down right now, but he's working hard at it. We've been impressed with what we've seen so far."

West noted this isn't his first go-round with the "next man up" culture of the NFL. He began his rookie season in Cleveland by stepping in for injured starter Ben Tate.

"I'm ready to go," he said. "I fit perfectly."

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The Browns swapped two picks to move up and select West 94th overall. He got off to a promising start in Cleveland, gaining 100 yards on 16 carries in his first game and scoring touchdowns in his second and third.

"We liked Terrance's skill set," Pettine said of the 225-pound runner. "We felt he had a chance to be a complete back. [He's] a thicker guy who could still hit some short-yardage runs but had the ability to either run a guy over or make him miss. He did some good work for us [catching the ball] out of the backfield."

But Pettine benched the rookie twice during the season as punishment for poor practice habits. West bounced from not playing at all in Week 16 to gaining 94 yards on 18 carries in the Browns' season-ending loss to the Ravens.

Though his numbers — 673 yards with a 3.9 per-carry average — were decent, he was on thin ice with Pettine because of what the coach perceived as inconsistent effort. Given a chance to redeem himself in training camp, West did not change Pettine's mind.

The Browns flipped West to the Titans even though projected starter Duke Johnson was questionable for the season opener because of a potential concussion. That was how certain they were that West could not help them.

He pledged to make the most of a fresh start in Tennessee, but that opportunity evaporated as well after West fumbled in each of his two games for the Titans.

West insisted his time with the Titans went well, saying the team released him when it did only to avoid sending the conditional seventh-round pick to Cleveland. He said he could have gone back to Tennessee instead of signing with the Ravens but wanted to come home.

West battled perceptions that he was immature before he ever reached the NFL.

Towson coach Rob Ambrose often praised his superstar for growing up during his junior year. But they had their rocky moments. As a sophomore, West seemed to indicate on Twitter that he was leaving Towson after he did not play in a loss to Old Dominion. He later deleted the tweet.

Even before that, Ambrose had said of West, "When he's good, he's phenomenal, and I mean that in every aspect of his life. When he's bad, he's impressive, and I mean that in every possible aspect of his life."

West, however, shrugged off the idea that he was unusually immature during his early years at Towson.

"You had fun in college right?" he said. "We were kids. It's the best time of your life. If they say that's maturity problems, everybody has maturity problems that goes to college. Once again, I've never been arrested, no failed drug test, never missed meetings, never missed practice."

West was a football, basketball and track star at Northwestern, but his career stalled after high school as academic struggles pushed him to a prep school and then left him without a Division I scholarship opportunity.

He and Towson needed one another, and West became an immediate star, proving too quick and powerful for FCS defenses to handle. He famously rose at 3 a.m. so he could take the bus from his family's home in West Baltimore to Ambrose's 5:30 a.m. workouts at Towson.

West produced a season for the ages as a junior, rushing for 2,509 yards and scoring 42 touchdowns. He was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, the FCS equivalent of the Heisman trophy, and carried Towson to the national championship game.

Two years later, he's hoping a Baltimore homecoming will help him restore the luster to his career.

"I'm hungry," West said. "I've been wanting to play since I was in Tennessee, throughout the week, sitting on the practice squad and not playing. This Monday, you'll see."

Browns quarterback Josh McCown admired West's hard-running style and said he can envision his former teammate blossoming in Baltimore.

"Being there, in that system, is going to be a good fit because the running game is familiar to him," McCown said. "It'll give him the best chance to put his best foot forward."

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West certainly seems content.

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On Wednesday, he spent 15 minutes after practice drilling through footwork with Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg. He chatted with a grinning Harbaugh as they walked off the field and compared notes on old Towson-James Madison games with practice squad receiver Daniel Brown (whom the Ravens have since released).

West was looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner at his mother's house, where he'd get to hang out with his 7-year-old son.

"It's great just to be back in your home," he said. "Growing up, I was a big Ravens fan. Still am. It's just unreal, just to put that uniform on."

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