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Tomorrow Is NHD: National Hillis Day


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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Shortly after Peyton Hillis was traded to the Browns back in March, coach Eric Mangini called and woke him up from a nap. What Mangini said made Hillis think he was still dreaming.


"I said, 'You can come here and get 1,000 yards, you can do that,'" recalled Mangini. "It's nice to see that came true. I really believed that when I said it and I'm really excited for him that we're getting closer."


Hillis, who was overlooked at Arkansas, in the first six rounds of the 2008 draft and last year in Denver, has an excellent chance of reaching the 1,000-yard milestone Sunday against the Bills. He needs just 38 yards, and will go against the league's worst run defense, one that's yielding a hefty 170.9 yards per game.


"It would be a dream come true," said Hillis, who has 962 yards and 11 rushing TDs. "It's always been in my dreams to do something like that. It would mean a lot to me and the rest of the guys that helped get me there. A lot of guys are unselfish up front and it's for them, not for myself."


Hillis would be only the third Browns back to reach 1,000 yards since Kevin Mack did it in 1985. Reuben Droughns rushed for 1,232 in 2005 and Jamal Lewis gained 1,304 in 2007 and 1,002 in 2008.


"It's going to really exciting," said left tackle Joe Thomas. "Peyton's done such a great job all season, it'll be real satisfying for us to get him over that mark. The guy runs hard every single play, runs over people and sets up our blocks really well."


Hillis will also be the first white running back to reach 1,000 yards since Craig James did it for the Patriots in 1985. He's on pace for 1,282.


"It is pretty amazing that it's been that long," said James, a college football analyst for ESPN. "I always knew somebody would come along and surpass it. I just didn't see it coming from Peyton. It's not a knock against Peyton. It's just that he didn't have that many yards in college, so he kind of came out of nowhere."


Friends and colleagues started telling James about Hillis over the past six weeks or so, and he started paying attention. The first game he watched was against his former team, the Patriots, a game in which Hillis rushed for a season-high 184 yards and received congratulations on the field afterwards from coach Bill Belichick.


"I knew then that he could do it," said James. "To get the 1,000 yards you have to have speed. You just can't plod along at 3- and 4-yard clips. You have to have some 10-, 15-, 20-yard runs and the speed and ability to break big plays."


James said he does think there's a stereotype against white tailbacks.


"But I don't know whether it's from the player who imposes it on himself and says 'I can never be a running back' or it could be from a coach," he said. "You really have to be given that chance."


He said he'll reach out to Hillis as soon as he reaches the milestone. "I have to welcome him to this small fraternity," he said with a laugh.


Hillis' teammates said it hasn't been an issue.


"I don't think anybody says, 'He's good for a white running back,'" said linebacker David Bowens. "He's a great running back, period."


It's also a non-issue to Hillis.


"Talk is talk," he said. "No matter if you do good or bad, there's always going to be talk. I guess that's one of the focal points, but it doesn't really need to be about that.


It should be about a guy going over 1,000 yards."


Left tackle Joe Thomas said the big story is Hillis riding the bench in Denver last season and then getting shipped to Cleveland in the Brady Quinn trade.


"Peyton basically had no yards [77] last year and then they got rid of him," said Thomas. "I'm sure the Broncos thought they were getting the better end of that bargain. I don't know how much Brady Quinn's played this year, but certainly Peyton has had a huge impact on our offense."


Thomas surmised that Hillis' huge season contributed to the firing of Broncos coach Josh McDaniels last week. "Personnel decisions were part of it and that was probably the biggest one," he said.


Hillis, who has some of the best hands on the team, leads the Browns with 53 catches and is just 13 shy of passing Greg Pruitt (65) for most receptions in a season by a Browns back.


"He has very good hands," said offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. "But I don't think his [pass protection] gets talked about enough. He's one of the better pass-protecting backs I've been around in 12 years. He's a complete back in terms of being able to do that, which is not always the easiest thing to do."


Despite his sensational season, one that includes 13 touchdowns for third-most in the NFL, Hillis isn't thinking Pro Bowl.


"No. Not at all," he said. "We've got four games left and Lord-willing, we'll have four wins."


On the sidelines: The Browns announced Saturday evening that LB Titus Brown (head), LB Scott Fujita (knee) and TE Evan Moore (knee) are officially inactive for the Bills.

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