CLEVELAND — Peyton Hillis says it’s “absurd” to hear comparisons of himself to Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly, but the third-year back is making it difficult not to recall arguably the two greatest backs in Cleveland Browns history.
In his first season as a Cleveland Brown, Hillis has quickly become a fan favorite as his bruising running style isn’t the only comparison anymore between the three. Sunday against the Panthers, Hillis racked up three rushing touchdowns in the first half to give him 11 for the season. It’s the most since Kelly had 16 in 1968, and with five games left it’s not unfathomable to think that Hillis could approach Jim Brown’s team record of 17.
“It’s all about the Lord being in my life and being close to me,” said Hillis, following Sunday’s 24-23 win over the Panthers. “Of course, when you have an All-Pro fullback (Lawrence Vickers) and everyone on your line is amazing, you are going to make some yardage. It’s just how it is. I don’t do it on my own and if it wasn’t for those guys I would make a single yard.
“So you have to give all the credit to them.”
One week after being held to 48 yards in the loss to Jacksonville, Hillis made his presence felt with 131 yards on 26 attempts. In addition to his rushing total, he added six receptions for 63 yards. In the first half alone, Hillis ran the ball 11 times for 74 yards and three touchdowns. His lone catch in the first half went for 21 yards before he was forced out of bounds. Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme says that Hillis’ role in the passing game gets overlooked by how well he runs the ball.
“I think his receiving skills and things like that — those don’t get enough credit,” said Delhomme. “He’s a running back that stays in the game on all three downs. A lot of guys can do that, but he does that extremely well.”
And as far as what he brings to the Browns backfield, Delhomme summed that up pretty good too.
“It’s a physical presence. I don’t think there’s any doubt,” said Delhomme. “It’s a physical presence that, even with an eighth man in the hole, he, for the most part, can move that person out of the hole. It’s about giving him the football and letting him follow the line and Lawrence Vickers. I think those two are a deadly combination.”
Through 11 games, Hillis has 905 yards on 199 carries (4.5 average) and 46 receptions for 414 yards. His two receiving touchdowns give him 13 for the year nearly doubling his total (7) from his two years in Denver.
With Hillis’s running style echoing that of Earl Campbell, Brown and Kelly, it’s fair to wonder how long his body can take the pounding. Hillis says he’s still young and it’s not his call anyway.
“It’s in the Lord’s hands what is going to happen to me in the future,” said Hillis. “I just try to take it day by day. In college I never really got beat up. I had two guys in front of me who did all the running, and I really didn’t do anything. In my first couple years in Denver, except for my late rookie run there, I never toted the rock that much.
“So I feel fresh and still feel young. I’m only 24 and hopefully that holds up.”
If there was one downside for Hillis on Sunday it was it his pass attempt in the first half that fell short of intended target Ben Watson.
“Boy, that was ugly, wasn’t it?” said Hillis laughing. “When we ran it in practice, I thought that Ben was going to run a corner route. When I got the ball I was rushing outside trying to see him, but I didn’t see him at first. I had so many guys in my face and at the last second, I saw him.
“I threw it and I think that is the end of my quarterback career.”
Contact Hans Schneider at 329-7135
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