BEREA, Ohio – When Brady Quinn was traded to the Denver Broncos last March most people thought the Browns were just clearing up their quarterback situation.
If anything, the Browns’ return value was draft choices they would receive from Denver. Peyton Hillis was included in the deal, but he was buried on the Broncos’ depth chart following a good rookie season, where he rushed for 343 yards on 68 carries (5.0 avg.), including five touchdowns. In the passing game, Hillis had 14 receptions for 179 yards (12.8 avg.) with a touchdown. He only played in 12 games last season before finishing 2009 on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.
Since arriving in Cleveland, Hillis was sidelined for a couple of practices with a mild strain in his leg. He had been making plays prior to the injury and then continued to make them after returning, particularly in the passing game.
The 6-foot-2, 250-pound bruising back hates missing practice.
“It feels really good to be out there again with the guys,” he said. “It gets pretty boring and heart breaking to sit inside when the teammates are practicing.”
Hillis has been the favorite target in practice of Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace in screen passes and short swing passes. Last week, Hillis caught a pass down field for a long gain.
He downplayed his role in the play.
“God blessed me and I did what the coaches told me to do and I was in the right place at the right time,” he said.
In the first preseason game against Green Bay, Hillis carried the ball twice for just three yards, but he caught three passes for 34 yards, including a 26-yard gain. He also contributed on special teams with two tackles and had a tackle on an interception return.
Hillis has the versatility that Eric Mangini looks for. He can be a tailback, a fullback, a third-down receiver, a short-yardage back, as well as a special team player.
“I love this game and no matter what gets me on the field, I’ll do,” Hillis said. “Of course, if you’re a competitor you want the ball and you want the ball in your hands when the team needs a touchdown.”
Hillis was able to get more reps in practice with Montario Hardesty on the sidelines.
“Montario is a great player and is going to be for this team, but when you’re out other guys get a chance to take some reps,” Hillis said.
Hillis is used to being involved in the passing game. Playing at Arkansas, he spent many of his days blocking for Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.
“In college, I ran a lot of slot and tight end sets,” he said. “With coach (Mike) Shanahan my first year, sometimes, the ball is thrown your way downfield and sometimes it’s in the flat.”
QB Play: Mangini was very pleased with the play of Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace. Delhomme had a QB rating of 106 and Wallace had a 120.8.
“I really like the way the offense played,” Mangini said. “Jake did very well on that first drive. We were able to do some things that we weren’t able to do against them last year. There were a lot of positives. Seneca did a good job. It was a very good start.”
Mangini likes to not have the distraction of a quarterback controversy.
“It’s been very positive in a lot of ways,” Mangini said. “Jake comes out of the game and he was involved in the third and fourth quarter and was into the game helping those guys out. He was teaching while he was out of the game.
“It was great and it has been great. Both guys are making right plays. Seneca is making plays with his feet.”
Practice Blitzing: The Browns did a lot of blitzing for a first preseason game, but Mangini said it was more of the team practicing certain defenses.
“Defensively, we worked on some pressures,” he said. “The best teaching tool there’s a small margin of error when you’re pressuring the ball. The touchdown with T.J. (Ward) was that Joe (Haden) showed the pressure too soon and a veteran quarterback picked that up.”
Ward Impresses: Defensive back T.J. Ward showed some signs that he could be the type of presence the Browns were hoping for when they drafted him in the second-round.
Mangini was confident he could be a sure tackler.
“I had seen him hit live in college and that usually translates to the NFL and he was one of those guys who had a lot of big hits and was a good tackler,” he said. “In terms of what we saw of him on his college tape, it was consistent.”
Ward had seven tackles, including six solo against Green Bay. He also had a quarterback hurry. Mangini likes what he saw from Ward on special teams, as well.
“T.J. showed up on special teams with two tackles,” Mangini said.
Mangini wants the defensive backs to be able to bring down the receivers when the ycatch the ball, not downfield. Ward dropped wide receiver Donald Driver in his tracks on a third down play to prevent the first down.
“To me that’s critical because it’s the difference between a seven or eight yard gain and a long play,” Mangini said.
McCoy Not Serious: Mangini said quarterabck Colt McCoy should be able to play this week against the Rams after hitting his hand on the helmet of an offensive lineman.
Meanwhile, running back Montario Hardesty has went to another phase of his rehab, but it’s unlikely he’ll be on the field this week.
“Next week (is more realistic),” Mangini said.
Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi strained his hamstring against the Packers, but Mangini doesn’t think it will keep him out long.
“He won’t be out there today, but probably later in the week.”
Robo’s Play: Wide receiver Brian Robiskie impressed Mangini with three receptions for 32 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown from quarterabck Seneca Wallace.
“I thought he played good,” he said. “I was happy for him because he’s worked hard. He’s taken a lot of heat and even though it’s only the preseason he made some nice catches. Brian has to be in a very specific spot and he was there and Seneca got it to him.”
Marcus Down: Linebacker Marcus Benard led the team with eight tackles, including a sack, against Green Bay.
“Marcus, where he is, compared to where he was a year ago is not even close,” Mangini said. “He was about as raw as a college player could be. He spoke to the rookies. His thought process was good and he was thoughtful and eloquent. He’s a guy who came from a small school and had to fight each day to stay in the building.”
Mangini said Benard has the same approach that Josh Cribbs has and even threw in a Hall of Famer.
“That’s the same approach Josh Cribbs has,” he said. “You hear a Jerry Rice talk, that’s how they talk, not being satisfied, but what do I have to do to get better. Teddy Atlas said a little bit of fear helps you to not become complacent.