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Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis is out to prove the team got the better end of the deal in the Brady Quinn trade


By Mary Kay Cabot, The Plain Dealer


May 31, 2010, 7:50PM

Browns running back Peyton Hillis takes a break during organized team activities in Berea. “I feel like I can do just about anything really well, whether it’s running or blocking or catching the ball out of the backfield,” he said. Cleveland - Browns running back Peyton Hillis is out to prove he's the gem of the Brady Quinn trade and not the one-year wonder some folks in Denver thought he was.


"I want to show the coaches they got a big steal," Hillis said during organized team activities last week. "That's just the way I think and work. I feel like I can do just about anything really well, whether it's running or blocking or catching the ball out of the backfield."


Unfortunately for Hillis, Broncos coach Josh McDaniels didn't see it that way last year when he took over in Denver. He inexplicably banished Hillis to the bench after his breakout rookie season, one in which he became a cult hero to Broncos fans.


After injuries to five Broncos backs in 2008, then-coach Mike Shanahan pressed his rookie fullback into service as the starting tailback late in the season. Hillis responded with a team-high 343 yards for the season and five touchdowns in six starts, including a 129-yard, one-touchdown game that helped beat Eric Mangini's Jets.


Selected by the Broncos in the seventh round out of Arkansas, Hillis also displayed excellent hands, catching seven passes for 116 yards and a TD against the Dolphins. He quickly became a fan favorite, especially when rumbling through defenders at the goal line.


"It was everything you dream about as a kid," said Hillis, 6-1 and 245 pounds. "You want to be a star in the NFL, and you want people to know who you are and see the good things that you do. I even astonished myself."


But the magic ended in Week 14 when he tore a hamstring and sat out the rest of the season. When McDaniels took over as head coach in the off-season, he brought in his own stable of backs, including free agents Correll Buckhalter and LaMont Jordan, and No. 12 overall pick Knowshon Moreno.


Suddenly, the Broncos' rookie phenom slipped to the back of the depth chart at tailback, and No. 2 at fullback.


"The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away," said Hillis. "It was just something I had to rebound from."


His disappearance from the Broncos' backfield remains a mystery, especially because McDaniels wouldn't even use him during a 2-6 stretch. Some say he fell out of favor in Week 2 against the Browns when he fumbled away the opening kickoff return at the Denver 20 to set up a Cleveland field goal. The Broncos went on to win, 27-6, but Hillis was a non-factor the rest of the season.


"I promise you I don't think it was anything bad at all," said Hillis. "I don't think it was a lack of work ethic or blocking ability or some of the other things people guessed at. It was just a new coach, new personnel and one man's opinion. Coach McDaniels is a smart man, and I think he's doing a great job in Denver."


The more McDaniels refused to play Hillis, the more fans and media in Denver clamored for him. Still, McDaniels denied that Hillis was in the doghouse.


"I just kept praying hard for a new beginning," said Hillis.


He got one when McDaniels traded him to Cleveland for Quinn on March 14. The Browns also received a sixth-round pick in 2011 and a conditional pick in 2012 that can improve from a sixth- to a third-rounder depending on Quinn's playing time.


"At first, it made me upset because I loved Denver," Hillis said. "I enjoyed the fans and the city. But when coach Mangini called, I was excited because it was new people and a team that really wanted me."


During OTAs last week, Hillis made some nice catches out of the backfield and lined up at multiple positions, showing the versatility that Mangini loves. He'll compete for playing time with Jerome Harrison, rookie Montario Hardesty, Lawrence Vickers, James Davis and Chris Jennings.


"He catches the ball well, he's 245 pounds and he's a really physical runner," Mangini said shortly after Hillis arrived. "He's tough with the football in his hands, and he can play tailback and fullback. You can mix him in a lot of different places. He's also played on special teams."


Hillis will do anything but would prefer to carry the ball. As a high school senior, he rushed for 2,631 yards and 29 touchdowns, and was heavily recruited. At Arkansas, he was off to a promising start at tailback until future first-round picks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones took over.


In 2006 and 2007, Hillis -- then a fullback -- blasted holes for McFadden and Jones to rush for 1,000 yards each. McFadden ended up going No. 4 overall to Oakland and Jones No. 22 to Dallas. But Hillis, the seventh-rounder, started more games than either of them his rookie year.


"I'm just grateful to have this chance," Hillis. "I can do a lot to help this team, and I think this will have a good outcome."



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i'm looking forward to seeing this kid play. i saw one of his highlight reels after the trade (maybe it was here), and he is tough as nails.


We seem to like the same kind of players.....I am looking forward to seeing him in action as well.


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We seem to like the same kind of players.....I am looking forward to seeing him in action as well.

I remember this kid in college in that game against LSU he was very impressive. That was one of the most amazing games I've seen in a while, what was it triple O.T. ?

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In all honesty, I don't recall.


I do know that in my unscientific way of factoring things, certain schools strike me as good places to get certain types of players, and when I think of Arkansas, I think tough and gritty and a school that runs the ball, so if you want a good back, look to see who is carrying the ball for the Razorbacks.


In this guys case, he was overshadowed by some pretty prolific players, so this makes it even better....we get a guy with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and eager to prove a few things.



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He's big & powerful with glue fingers! What's not to like?

All of a sudden, we have some real tools in the backfield, don't we? Pretty exciting stuff.


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