I've been watching, reading and listening to the talking heads about the Peyton Hillis saga and I want to weigh in on the matter. But before I go much further, I want you to know this article is very pro Hillis.
I know it's the bye week and there's not much else to talk about, but I've been around Hillis the last two years covering him. I started talking with him early in his arrival here and we hit it off and spent most of our time talking about hunting and non-football related topics. We had a lot of things in common and I really like the guy.
He was not the focal point of the Browns offense when I first met him in minicamp. He was perceived to be a thrown in player in the Brady Quinn trade, who was just hoping to make the team.
When he became the go to guy in the locker room as his role expanded and expanded in 2010, I did not see him change one bit. He remained humble and very thankful for the opportunity he had with the Browns and counted every day a blessing to be a member of the Browns and a part of the NFL. He was consistent win or lose, good game or bad game.
As his popularity soared and the 2010 season progressed, and the off-season with the Madden Cover honor, I didn't see any change in him. The reason I am writing this is because I think if there was any way he felt he could've played against the Dolphins he would have. It had NOTHING to do with his contract.
He is a competitor in the true sense of the word and from what I've seen in him he is one of those throw back guys, who would play the game for free—well maybe not, totally free.
Pat Shurmur cast some doubt on Hillis' not playing by the way he explained it. Hillis' agent, Kennard McGuire cast more doubt on him by saying he told Hillis not to play.
But if you're a doubter, remember this, the next time any you are on your knees leaning over the porcelain throne wrenching your stomach or sweating with a high fever (reported 104-105 degrees) with strep throat, ask yourself if you feel like going out and doing some rigorous physical activity…let alone play NFL football.
Hillis lost up to 10 pounds during his illness and am sure some of his strength. Any one doubting Hillis' toughness, most likely, has never had strep throat.
As I was writing this, Hillis posted two tweets on his Twitter account, thepeytonhillis.
"I love the fans of Cleveland…the city that gave me a chance. I play hard in every play of every game."
"If I could have physically played against the Dolphins I would have. I love this city and hope to retire here."
Hillis is clearly bothered by the way this has played out. He played the final three or four games of the 2010 season with a rib injury, but it was never talked about until the off-season.
Those who think Hillis didn't play because he was making a statement about his contract are off base, as well. I take Hillis at his word when he said ‘the Browns will take care of me when they're ready.'
I do not think Hillis is fretting about the contract situation—his agent might be—but Hillis knows if he plays and produces he will be taken care of. He wouldn't be human if he didn't wonder what was going on when he sees Chris Gocong, Ahtyba Rubin and Evan Moore get extended.
Mike Holmgren told a national media outlet that the team was ‘trying like crazy' to extend Hillis.
As far as fitting into the West Coast offense, Hillis broke into the NFL with the Broncos in Mike Shanahan's West Coast offense and flourished. He finished his rookie season as the Broncos' leading rusher after all the backs in front of him were injured.
In St. Louis, under Shurmur, Steven Jackson carried the ball 25-30 times a game and also caught many passes out of the backfield. Hillis, not only rushed for over 1,100 yards in 2010, but also caught 61 passes. Hopefully, Shurmur and the offensive coaches will come to the conclusion that what they do best is get the ball in Hillis' hands 20 plus times a game in the coming games.
I am confident the Browns view Hillis as a part of the core. The guy is a good character guy, versatile and most importantly, a good football player. Hillis' background is as a fullback. He was in the background at Arkansas as the blocker for Darren McFadden and then Felix Jones.
I have been a proponent of playing Hillis and Montario Hardesty in the backfield together. Hillis can obviously be the fullback in those situations and he has displayed he can be the feature back. That duo, to me, would be much more productive that Hillis and Owen Marecic or Hardesty and Marecic.
This is not to cut on Marecic, but he's just a rookie and to date, has not shown much ability to either run the ball or be a threat as a receiver. I'm all for the return of the days when Jim Brown/Ernie Green or Kevin Mack/Earnest Byner tandems of days gone by where there was literally two threats at running back at all times and not just a blocking fullback.
As the Browns get rested up to prepare for the final 12 games, hopefully, this is one story that will end.
As Shurmur said Tuesday, "To me, it's a non-issue."