At long last.
Cleveland’s besieged running back, who has missed the past six games with a severely strained left hamstring, could return to the field this week when the Browns (4-6) visit the Cincinnati Bengals (6-4). It’s a surprising development considering Browns coach Pat Shurmur ruled him out when the week began and Hillis did not practice Wednesday or Thursday.
But Hillis has made major progress in the past few days, and is on the brink of a long-awaited, and perhaps dramatic, return.
“I miss playing football,” he said. “It’s what I was brought up my whole life to do. I’m excited to get out there playing a game. I’m excited about winning games. I’m excited to see how I can play during this time. I’m excited I feel 100 percent again.”
Hillis, whose fall from stardom has been as abrupt as his rise, is ready to resume his stormy season.
“I’ve just got to find a way to overcome all of this and be the player I used to be,” he said.
Hillis practiced Friday for the first time since Nov. 4, when he re-injured his hamstring two days before a game in Houston. During the portion of practice open to the media, Hillis appeared to be fully healed. He carried the ball a few times, and near the end of the workout, Hillis caught a short pass and turned up field with a burst of speed.
“Because he hasn’t played ball in a long time, I think it’s still important that I’m cautious with his return,” Shurmur said.
In addition to possibly having Hillis back, the Browns will have running back Montario Hardesty, who has missed the past three games with a calf injury. With Hillis and Hardesty sidelined, Chris Ogbonnaya rushed for 115 yards last week in a win over Jacksonville.
Shurmur wouldn’t be pinned down on who would start.
“If Hillis is available, he will be available because he’s ready to play,” he said. “Now, whether he’ll start or not I’ll have to decide that on Sunday. We have running backs coming back from injury so none of them can handle a full load and I think that’s an important thing to remember.”
It figures Hillis‘ return would be a spectacle. His second season in Cleveland has been nothing short of a sideshow since it began.
Hillis squabbled publicly with the Browns over a possible contract extension before both sides decided to table discussions. He missed Cleveland’s game on Sept. 23 with strep throat, a decision he said he made on the advice of his agent. Hillis got hurt on Oct. 16 at Oakland, and two weeks later missed a Halloween party for needy kids, an absence he blamed on a miscommunication.View Entire Story
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