July 24, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Hillis returns to practice field

BEREA — Browns running back Peyton Hillis returned to the practice field Friday, five days after re-injuring his right thigh during a 20-10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

The extended rest apparently did the trick as Cleveland’s leading rusher declared himself ready to play Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It was good for me to take a couple of days off and get treatment all week,” Hillis said. “It’s supposed to be beautiful weather there (at Heinz Field), so that should help. Once I get it warmed up and wrapped up and get out there, it’ll be good.”

The 6-foot-2, 250-pound bruiser has been hampered by leg injuries since the start of training camp, but stressed they are unrelated and not serious.

“I’m not the type to lie, I’m just gonna tell you what it is,” said Hillis, who has 350 rushing yards, 20 receptions and five touchdowns in the Browns’ first five games. “I have a slight quad strain right now and there is no contusion.

“No doubt, I re-aggravated it during the (Atlanta) game, but it’s just a matter of me not being hydrated and not taking care of my thigh.”

Following the midweek trade of Jerome Harrison to Philadelphia for fellow running back Mike Bell, Hillis is clearly Cleveland’s top guy at the position. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll went as far as to call him, “your bell cow, the guy you go to.”

With the Browns expected to start rookie quarterback Colt McCoy in “Blitzburgh,” Hillis will be counted on even more than usual to carry their offense.

“They’re human, just like we are, and they put their pants on one leg at a time,” Hillis said of the Steelers. “You’ve just got to prepare well for them.

“I have heard in the locker room and from the fans just how big this game is. I’m looking forward to making them proud.”

Injury update

Browns coach Eric Mangini refused to name McCoy his starting quarterback against the Steelers, but admitted, “the lean is a little heavier to Colt today. He’s done well this week and I’m pleased with what I’ve seen.”

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, however, openly talked about McCoy getting the nod at Pittsburgh later in the afternoon.

Continuing the covert theme, Mangini would not rule out Jake Delhomme or Seneca Wallace from playing, officially designating them as doubtful. Both signalcallers are in walking boots after suffering right high ankle sprains against Atlanta. Also doubtful for Cleveland are defensive end Robaire Smith (back) and tackle John St. Clair (ankle).

Listed as questionable are defensive end Kenyon Coleman (knee), nose tackle Shaun Rogers (elbow), tight end Robert Royal (shoulder), cornerback Nick Sorensen (calf), guard Floyd Womack (knee) and running back Peyton Hillis (thigh).

Wide receiver Joshua Cribbs (ankle), safety Abram Elam (knee), center Alex Mack (shoulder) and tackle Joe Thomas (shin) are probable.

Guard Trai Essex (ankle) — the only player on Pittsburgh’s injury report — is doubtful.

Phil the foot

Kicker Phil Dawson is in the final year of his contract, but the Browns have made no effort to sign him to a new deal. While Mangini said general manager Tom Heckert Jr. and president Mike Holmgren handle “all that contract stuff,” he had high praise for the 12th-year pro.

“I think Phil has done a great job and I really like Phil,” he said. “A lot of times, we work out at the same time, and we talk about things having nothing to do with football like our families. I enjoy him being on the team a lot.”

Last week against the Falcons, Dawson tied Lou Groza’s franchise record for career field goals with 234.

“I’m looking forward to Phil breaking the record this weekend,” Mangini said, adding with a chuckle, “We want to score a lot of touchdowns with a field goal worked in.”


Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots will call the Browns/Steelers game on CBS (WOIO-TV 19 locally), which is sending it to every Ohio market except Cincinnati. The contest will also be broadcast in the western half of Pennsylvania, all of West Virginia and Virginia and the scattered markets of Erie, Pa., Florence, S.C., and Nashville, Chattanooga and Tri-Cities, Tenn.

The Browns/Falcons game drew a 27.5 rating and a whopping 61 share locally on WJW-TV 8. The same matchup earned a 20.3 and a 40 share in Atlanta.

Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.