Inside Slant; Hillis and Notes

RB Peyton Hillis is getting back into the groove after spending five weeks recovering from a hamstring injury. Now working through a hip strain, Hillis looks to end the season on a high note......Plus notes on the team leading up to the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday.

It has taken most of the season to get to this point, but Peyton Hillis is finally able to put all of his effort and concentration into playing football again.

Hillis spent five weeks recovering from a hamstring injury. On Thursday night in Pittsburgh, he will make his third straight start since recovering from the injury.

A benefit from the time off, other than healing, is the storm clouds from early in the season blew over.

The trouble started with the first mention of his contract in early September and grew when he did not play Sept. 25 against the Dolphins because he had strep throat. When his agent came out and said he advised Hillis not to play, the controversy intensified.

Two weeks after the Dolphins game, Hillis injured his hamstring running the ball in Oakland. Next, he skipped an obligation at a Halloween charity event, and then he aggravated the hamstring injury at a Friday practice before the Browns played the Texans on Nov. 6.

It got to the point where team leaders called Hillis into a meeting. Exactly what went on at the meeting depends on who is telling the story.

"Were they distractions?" coach Pat Shurmur said. "We keep plowing ahead. Teams work through things. Everybody does a very good job of finding out what happens, but there's a lot of things that happen nobody knows about beyond the team. That's just something that came to light, but we're moving forward. I hope all that's behind us."

Hillis is in the final year of his contract. An extension is still not resolved, but the issue doesn't seem to bother him anymore.

"My future is here," Hillis said. "We have four more games. I want to produce and help this team win. That's my sole focus.

"This is where I want to be. I love Cleveland. There have always been questions there. I'm having fun. I enjoy this place, and I enjoy this team. I hope to be here."

Hillis was healthy for Sunday's game against the Ravens, and he looked forward to a big day after rushing for 65 yards against the Bengals the previous week. However, Hillis rushed 12 times for 45 yards in the 24-10 loss to Baltimore. He caught one pass for 52 yards. Running back Montario Hardesty played but did not touch the ball.

Any chance the Browns have of upsetting the Steelers depends on Hillis breaking tackles and holding onto the football. He played against them twice last year, and both times the Steelers held him in check.

He rushed 12 times for 41 yards in Pittsburgh in an October game, then carried only six times for 13 yards in the final game of the season, a home game the Browns lost 41-9. By then, Hillis was playing with cracked ribs.


LINEUP WATCH: Quarterback Colt McCoy left the game with a knee injury but missed only one play. He said his knee was fine.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- Times wide receiver Joshua Cribbs was targeted in Sunday's loss. McCoy threw 36 passes.



--RB Chris Ogbonnaya led the Browns with five catches, but they produced only 28 yards.

--Rookie DE Jabaal Sheard had a strip sack for the third straight week. He has five forced fumbles.

--DE Jayme Mitchell had his first career fumble recovery.

--KR Joshua Cribbs was held to 95 yards on four returns.

--LB D'Qwell Jackson had a season-high 12 tackles. He leads the team with 112 tackles.

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