x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

It is Hillis's turn to carry the ball

He was sent to Cleveland for the quarterback Brady Quinn. Based on early returns, while Quinn sits in Denver, Hillis is bowling over tacklers - when not running around them with his impressive speed.

The Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis slips a tackle on a 35-yard touchdown run.
The Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis slips a tackle on a 35-yard touchdown run.

The 2008 NFL draft was bittersweet for Peyton Hillis. The University of Arkansas fullback, whose blocking had cleared running lanes for the tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, enabled them to be selected fourth and 22nd.

Hillis had to wait another day to hear his name called: in the seventh (final) round, 227th overall.

Still, he landed feet-first in Denver. Mike Shanahan, the Broncos' coach at the time, deployed the rookie as a ball-carrying, pass-catching back, mirroring his college duties pre-McFadden, pre-Jones. Shanahan is known for tailbacks of all shapes and sizes.

Shanahan's successor, Josh McDaniels, was less enamoured and, after a forgettable second season, Hillis was sent to Cleveland for the quarterback Brady Quinn.

Based on early returns, the trade stands as among Denver's worst. As Quinn sits in Denver, Hillis is bowling over tacklers - when not running around them with his impressive speed.

Last Sunday, Hillis torched New England for 184 rushing yards, the most yielded by the Patriots in eight seasons. With 873 rushing and receiving yards, he ranks eighth in the league. He also has scored eight touchdowns.

"Peyton's a load," said Eric Mangini, coach of the Browns. "I mean, I avoid him in the hallway."

The role of Hillis-as-blocking -back has been assumed in Cleveland by Lawrence Vickers, who said, "If you don't want to run into that truck, move out of the way."

For some talent evaluators, Hillis's high football IQ and relentless drive were offset by the eye test: at 1.85m and 109kg he is is heavier and wider than the typical NFL tailback. Luckily for him, the Browns' cupboard was bare at the position.

Nobody is hurting more over Hillis's emergence than Jerry Jones, as if the owner of the Dallas Cowboys does not have enough to worry about. Jones passed on Hillis, a fellow Arkansas alumnus, and instead is stuck with Jones, who has failed to score while gaining 459 rushing/receiving yards.

(As for McFadden, do not colour the Oakland Raiders regretful. He has generated the league's fourth-most yards.)

Sometimes, tagging a player as "versatile" can become a scarlet letter. If the guy gets moved around, the thinking goes, he cannot master one position.

On the day he was drafted, Hillis expressed a willingness to serve wherever he was assigned. "I'm just anxious to play," he said. Wish granted, at the glamour position.

"I want this to be a routine thing," Hillis said. "I want to be known as being consistent and going the whole year through, being the man, tote the rock."

Today’s top games

• Tennessee at Miami: For Randy Moss, the season has become a series of Halloween nights: he changes into another costume. Now with the Titans, Tennessee hopes that Moss, if nothing else, will open the field for tailback Chris Johnson. The Dolphins switched Chads at quarterback – from Henne to Pennington.
• Dallas at NY Giants: The coldest NFC team visits the hottest. The Cowboys ended the misery of coach Wade Phillips by firing him and promoting Jason Garrett, whose pass-happy play-calling has been criticised. The quarterback Jon Kitna, below, has started since the Giants KO’d Tony Romo early in their five-game win streak.
• New England at Pittsburgh: A compelling collision of 6-2 teams and marquee quarterbacks, Brady vs “Big Ben”. The Patriots are licking wounds from their worst game, a beatdown by the Browns. The Steelers are prime-time hits (it’s their third straight night game) and celebrate homecoming after three on the road.

Today’s other games

Detroit at Buffalo
Carolina at Tampa Bay
Minnesota at Chicago
Houston at Jacksonville
NY Jets at Cleveland
Cincinnati at Indianapolis
Kansas City at Denver
St Louis at San Francisco
Seattle at Arizona

Tomorrow’s game
Philadelphia at Washington

Stat of the week
Position players went 1-for-2 on extra-point kicks last weekend after the regular kickers were injured. The Detroit defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh missed off the right post. The New England receiver Wes Welker split the uprights.

sports@thenational.ae