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Back in July, I recapped the fast transition that the Cleveland Browns had at the running back position in their shift away from RB Peyton Hillis, who signed a one-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. At the time, here is the paragraph that summed up my thoughts concisely:
It's not easy to accept the quick downfall of Hillis. This was a guy who became the identity of the Browns offense two years ago out of nowhere. Just as quickly as he gained his fame, he lost it. I don't want to remember the drama-filled season with Hillis. I want to remember the good times, like when he hurdled a Falcons defender or bulldozed over a Panther into the end zone.
This week, it's impossible not to talk about Hillis, though, because he will return to Cleveland Browns Stadium this Sunday when the Browns host the Chiefs. Given all of the rumored issues that Hillis had during the 2011 season, there was no doubt that the media was going to pry as much juice as they could from the locker room about Hillis' tenure. Here's the thing I didn't count on happening, though: Joe Thomas making headlines by ripping on his former teammate. It didn't sound like the media had to do any prying; Thomas gave them all they wanted to hear...and more.
There are a few players in the locker room who I consider to be the core of the Browns due to their tenure, high level of play, and respect they command in the locker room. Specifically, I would point to guys like K Phil Dawson, LB D'Qwell Jackson, and Thomas. When any of them speak, you feel like you are getting a true representation of what's going on in the locker room. Here are some quotes from Thomas that circulated the web today:
Toxic Situation & Both Teams Better Off: "I think it was better for both sides (he left)," Thomas said. "At that point, the situation with him here was toxic and he didn't want to be here and players didn't want him here. It was better for a fresh start."
Hillis Not Playing Due to Contract Dispute: "To have Peyton going through a contract dispute and basically refusing to play, it was a big distraction, but more than anything, because sometimes I think distractions are overrated, he was our starting running back that was a good player who was going to help us be a successful offense. When he’s not there and you don’t have anybody to turn to, it makes it hard to win."
Refusing to Listen to Teammates: "The frustrating thing to a lot of teammates was you try to talk to him and you try to tell him ‘That’s not the right way to do it if you want to get your big contract.’ He just wouldn’t listen to anybody. People who thought they were very close friends with him … he wouldn’t listen to anybody. He thought he knew what was the right way to do it and it ended up not being the right way and it ended up hurting everybody. Not just himself. It was a tough situation."
Change in Attitude from 2010 to 2011: "Yeah, no question, he was everything people knew about him: hard-working, blue-collar tough. The next year all he cared about what trying to get his new contract. I think he was getting poor guidance on how to go about his business. The way he chose it really hurt the team."
Hillis Getting Married While Injured: "It was kind of one weird thing after another more than anything. We have guys getting married during the season and it’s not a big deal. When you’re injured (Thomas used his fingers to make quotations in the air) and you should be getting treatment, to go do your own thing repeatedly was just disrespectful more than anything to his teammates. I don’t think people would have acted the same way if they were in that situation."
Richardson Playing Through Injuries vs. Hillis: "Trent still goes out there and runs people over in the secondary and we appreciate that," Thomas said. "With Hillis, the contract got in the way of doing what he needed to do to help the offense."
Whether Hillis Will be Pumped to Face Cleveland: "He might. I guess I haven’t watched their offense, so I don’t really know what his role is. I’m sure he’ll probably want to come in here and prove they made a mistake by not re-signing him. It will be interesting to see how many opportunities they give him."
After Thomas spoke out, former teammate Tony Pashos tweeted, "You can tell it was hell when Joe speaks out about it."
Last season, I constantly found myself blaming the media for everything that was being said or insinuated about Hillis. As it turns out, it sounds like all of the blame was actually squarely on the shoulders of Hillis.
Hillis has not had much of a breakout season with the Chiefs. He has 59 carries for 193 yards (3.3 average) and 1 touchdown on the season. He had a season high in carries last week (12) against the Panthers' poor run defense, but he only managed 19 yards. Even if Hillis has a little bit of motivation to play this week, it's hard to imagine him having a significant impact on the outcome of the game. If the defensive players in the Browns' locker room were as frustrated as Thomas was, though, they might just have a little extra incentive to knock their former teammate around.