BEREA — Mike Bell and Thomas Clayton have accepted their roles. Currently, Peyton Hillis is the guy in Cleveland. With each defender Hillis runs through, his popularity grows outside northeast Ohio.
Hillis’ physical style has produced 726 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 152 carries. He is 12th in the NFL in rushing yards. Yet from there, the production falls hard and falls fast.
Gone are Jerome Harrison (trade), James Davis (waived) and Montario Hardesty (injury). In their place, the Browns have acquired Mike Bell and Thomas Clayton.
Combined, Bell and Clayton have 14 carries for seven yards. The Browns top rushers are not primarily ball carries. Wide receiver Josh Cribbs has 16 carries for 69 yards, quarterback Colt McCoy also has 16 carries for 48 yards and punter Reggie Hodges remains in the mix with his one carry for 68 yards.
“The flip side of that is Hillis is so productive when he’s in there,” coach Eric Mangini said. “If it’s comparative production you’re looking, you’re getting 4.8 yards per carry with Peyton, so you’ve got to be able to weigh the pros and cons.”
Cleveland acquired Bell on Oct. 14 in exchange for Harrison. He is in his fifth NFL season, with his most productive years being his rookie year where he rushed for 677 yards and eight touchdowns with Denver in 2006, and last season where Bell rushed for 654 yards and five scores with New Orleans.
“I learned through these last five years, especially this recent change, you’ve got to make the best out of each opportunity you get,” Bell said. “You can’t focus on the amount of reps you get or it’ll eat you up. It has done that to me in the past.”
Hillis is getting the most reps, but there are still chances for Bell and Clayton to succeed. Both are clinging to those chances.
“Each week is a work in progress,” said Clayton, who the Browns claimed off waivers from the Patriots on Oct. 26. “You try and get better and better each week and we try and push each other. At this point, we try to be the guy to spell Peyton.”
Clayton received only one chance last week against the Jets. He had one carry for no yards.
“I’m disappointed with myself on that one,” Clayton said. “I consider myself to be a home run hitter. Even though it’s unrealistic, I expect that all the time.”
As a team, the Browns are 12th in the NFL averaging 116.1 yards rushing per game, but Hillis has 748 of the team’s 1,045 yards.
“You’d like to be able to work the other guys in to some degree, but it’s got to make sense in terms of what you’re doing and the situation in the game,” Mangini said. “Some teams are package specific and others have a featured guy and that’s who you’ve got down in and down out. Every approach is different and sometimes the game dictates things.”
Don’t look for Bell or Clayton to be clamoring publicly for more carries. They have bought into the Browns’ team-first mind set.
“This is a great locker room,” Bell said. “They’re very encouraging and they keep things fun. That makes it easy and it takes the focus off me and more on my team.”
Managing Expectations: Four starts into the Colt McCoy Era, Mangini is not ready to name the 24-year-old the next coming of — to borrow an example from Jets coach Rex Ryan — Frank Ryan. In fact, Mangini is trying to underplay the rookie’s success because struggles will occur.
“At some point you’ll deal with adversity and he’ll have a bad game,” Mangini said. “You want to see how he responds. I’m excited about what he’s done, pleased with what he’s done, but its unfair and I don’t want to put that added pressure on him in terms of what is going to happen in years to come.
“I’d much rather look at it as seeing his growth and being able to give him more each week.”
McCoy now leads the Browns in yards passing (734), completion percentage (64.6) and yards per attempt (7.41). He’s added two touchdowns and two interceptions. McCoy’s 64.6 completion percentage places him ahead of Tom Brady (64.5 percent), Peyton Manning (64.2) and Matt Schaub (64.2) and behind Philip Rivers (65.3). To be fair, that quartet has played in five more games this season.
“It’s good that (the coaches) have trust in me,” McCoy said Thursday. “We have just got to continue to be able to understand what we need to do and be prepared for anything so we can keep going forward. I feel good with everything.”
Expanded Role: Linebacker Marcus Benard, who leads the Browns with 5.5 sacks, is continuing to progress Mangini said Friday. In addition to Benard’s pass rushing skills, he is showing improvement in other linebacking responsibilities.
“We want him to be a four-down linebacker,” Mangini said. “Which means also play well on special teams and not be pigeon-holed into one kind of guy. His jump from last year to this year and the knowledge of the system and how comfortable he is with himself is remarkable. A year from now he’ll be a much better player, not just as a pass rusher, but a complete football player.”
On Nov. 11, Benard fainted in the team’s locker room minutes before practice. He played four days later against the New York Jets and is expected to play Sunday in Jacksonville. Yesterday, Benard said that episode was a because of stress related to complications with the birth of his third child, who was born Monday morning.
Injury Update: Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs (foot) did not practice Friday. The Browns will evaluate Cribbs on Saturday morning before deciding on his fate for Sunday.
In addition to Cribbs, defensive back Mike Adams (abdomen) and linebacker Scott Fujita (knee) did not practice. Defensive back Sheldon Brown (shoulder) and offensive linemen Eric Steinbach (calf) and Floyd Womack (knee) were worked into practice in limited capacity.