- Associated Press - Monday, October 3, 2011

BEREA, OHIO (AP) - Browns coach Pat Shurmur defended his use of Peyton Hillis, saying the bruising back did not get less playing time on Sunday against Tennessee because of his unresolved contract issue or punishment for missing Cleveland’s game last week with strep throat.

Shurmur was emphatic that Hillis’ role this season is not being influenced by ongoing negotiations with the Browns on a contract extension.

“Absolutely not,” Shurmur said. “That’s a non-issue.”

Too bad it’s not the only one.

But Hillis’ sickness last week _ he sat out the Sept. 25 game against Miami _ is lingering around the Browns like a bad cold.

On Sunday, ESPN’s Adam Shefter reported there were whispers in Cleveland’s locker room that Hillis’ contract issues were a contributing factor in him missing the Dolphins’ game.

Shurmur addressed the report following Sunday’s 31-13 loss to the Titans and spent a large portion of his news conference on Monday talking about Hillis’ status.

As far as Shurmur’s concerned, the matter is over.

“The young man was sick and he didn’t play,” Shurmur said. “OK, that’s the end of it. He played yesterday and I think that’s what the important thing is. Two weeks ago he didn’t play. We played the Miami Dolphins and won. Yesterday, he was a significant contributor and we didn’t win.”

If some of the Browns doubt Hillis was sick, they’re not saying so publicly. Shurmur said he would put more validity in the report if the source was identified.

“When information gets out you obviously like to see names attached to it,” he said. “I am aware enough to know that there are all kinds of ways information spreads now. I’ve expressed to the team that I would prefer that we keep business in-house and I think sometimes that’s hard to do.

“I can’t really control how the team feels about certain situations other than we’re constantly talking about being very professional, about doing your job and doing those types of things.”

Shurmur said he did not hear any players “grumbling” about Hillis missing the game.

Shurmur was pressed on whether he spoke directly with Hillis before last week’s game, and who made the final decision for the 25-year-old not to play.

“He and I had a conversation,” Shurmur said. “My understanding was that he was ill and he didn’t play. That’s my understanding and so we moved forward and that’s when Hardesty played a lot. Yesterday, (Hillis) was healthy and he played and he started and did a good job.”

Story Continues →