If you were dying to see running back Peyton Hillis back in action already, you might get your wish this weekend against the San Francisco 49ers. Prior to practice, Cleveland Browns head coach Pat Shurmur said Hillis would be a "full go" in practice. Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal later confirmed that Hillis was indeed practicing with the team.
When a reporter asked if Hillis would be the featured back or would have to split time with Montario Hardesty, Shurmur said, "[Hillis] is our starting halfback and if he’s able to go, he’ll be the starter."
With that said, the Browns probably won't be able to take the same approach as they did this past week against the Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers are ranked second in the league against the run, but I'd consider them the best run defense. The Browns should not abandoned the run by any means, but they need much better production out of the passing game if they want to have a shot at winning.
Shurmur elaborated on why he feels the 49ers' run defense is so good:
"I think it’s a combination of number one the scheme as well as the talent of the players that play it. They’re very good, they’re very good up front. They have a 3-4 scheme and they play it well. Against a 3-4 defense there’s not as many of combinations of runs that you can run at it. There’s five guys standing on the line and they’re very talented. I’ve seen them four times in the last two years at the last place I was and they’re very good and it’s a credit to them."
Besides having a good run defense, the 49ers also have a good run offense. This will be a game won in the trenches, and on the offensive line, starting right guard Shawn Lauvao is still nursing a knee injury. Even though there was some chatter among fans that John Greco filled in better against the Seahawks, Shurmur shot down any thought of replacing Lauvao (if healthy) in the starting lineup:
"No Shawn’s our starter. If he can play, he’ll start much like Tony Pashos. If he’s in the game, he’ll be our starter. I think it’s the same. Shawn, I think is improving each week. He got nicked up last week. He’ll be a little bit limited here as we go through the week, which is not atypical for a lineman this time of year. We’ll see where he’s at the end of the week. We tend to shuffle that sixth and seventh guy around depending on our needs. The week that Alex Mack was coming back we used (Steve) Vallos to back him up. Now with Shawn being nicked up a little bit, we’ll just see how we’ll shift those guys around."