Wasn't it just last year, in the last three games of the Browns' season that running back Jerome Harrison was resurrected from the dead with 561 of his 862 rushing yards? Wasn't it just at the beginning of this year that Harrison was undoubtedly going to be the Browns feature back? Wasn't it Harrison that was going to lead the offense in the absence of Montario Hardesty and James Davis?
Wasn't it Harrison that said "I'd give me the ball on almost every play" before the Browns 16-14 loss to Kansas City?
So who has played well enough to deserve the ball on every carry for Cleveland thus far? Peyton Hillis; of all people. Not saying he didn't have it in him because he certainly has some raw, powerful tools, but did anyone see this coming? It was almost as if, when the Browns acquired Hillis in the Brady Quinn from the Broncos, that Hillis wasn't the main guy in the transaction. It seemed at the time that the 2011 sixth round draft pick got more attention; or was that just me?
Regardless, the Browns snuck in a star in their backfield and got the better of the trade; or so far it seems. Denver ended up with a third string quarterback who probably won't see very many snaps, if any for the 2010 campaign.
Hillis has 322 yards and four rushing touchdowns, one in each game, this season. Originally listed as a fullback, he has been getting the bulk of the carries recently behind starting fullback Lawrence Vickers, and I don't see that changing. Why would it? Peyton is six foot 2, 250 pounds? Can you say, intimidation factor?
Hillis is not only a tough tackle, but he is versatile; more so then NFL scouts seem to think. He has caught 16 passes this season. He even led the team in receptions in week three versus Baltimore with seven for 36 yards. And the great thing about him is that he is young; a seventh round draft pick taken twentieth overall by the Denver Broncos. Sometimes, lower level draft picks can make the necessary adjustments from college to NFL. Tom Brady is a perfect example; taken in the sixth round. Now, Peyton Hillis is flourishing in the Browns ground game.
He is just the kind of runner the Browns needed; a runner that doesn't give up when a play looks over, a guy that would rather run the defense over than run around them. A guy that isn't afraid to take a hard hit for the betterment of his team.
This is what the Browns have lacked for so many seasons; not just in the running game, but everywhere else on the field. Soft teams will get exposed by an NFL opposition about ninety percent of the time. Jerome Harrison isn't exactly a hard core running style halfback, yet still he just hasn't produced this season with the work he has gotten; averaging just over three yards per rush with no trips to the end zone.
I don't think anyone saw Peyton Hillis's recent success coming at all, for a few reasons. One, that Jerome Harrison was coming off of his career best streak with sensational running efforts over the Chiefs, Raiders, and Jaguars. Harrison couldn't carry over the quick strike ability from last year, and started off cold. Two, the Browns asked more out of the ground game when Jake Delhomme went down. Not that Seneca Wallace hasn't done a good job (hey may even have put himself in future considerations for starter if Delhomme struggles when he returns) but the Browns were not going to be primarily a passing offense with their backup in at quarterback. And three, the Browns offensive line is getting better; much better. Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach, and Alex Mach have formed a formidable wall with holes for Hillis to exploit. Hillis didn't exactly come out of nowhere, but he is doing more than what's expected of him.
My point being, this happens all the time. The current top wide receiver in the league is Austin Collie of the Colts. The top rusher in the NFL right now is the Texans' Arian Foster. Kyle Orton, of Denver, has three hundred more yards than Drew Brees.
These unexpected things may happen all the time, but they rarely goes on forever. It's what makes the NFL, and all sports for that matter, entertaining. Someone is always guaranteed to come out of the closet and strut their stuff; others will take a step backwards and hide themselves in their shame. But let's hope this whole thing isn't a beginner's luck type deal so Hillis can continue to be the workhorse of the Browns offense and take some of the pressure off of their mediocre passing game, and off of Joshua Cribbs.