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Shurmur was asked if he thought Hillis appeared ill.

“Yes, he looked sick,” Shurmur said, keeping his cool amid the barrage of questions. “I’m not trying to talk around it. He was ill and he looked ill.”

Hillis has spent the past few days defending his decision not to play. He said he lost “10 to 12” pounds while he was sick and chose not to play because he had no energy and wouldn’t have helped the team.

On Monday, Browns right tackle Tony Pashos and rookie wide receiver Greg Little were in their teammates’ corner.

Peyton’s our guy,” Pashos said. “He’s a stud. The whole city of Cleveland loves him. That’s my boy and I want to have as many yards as possible because it makes everybody’s job easier.”

Said Little, “I don’t take those sources to be very credible. I just think that’s coming from very thin air. I think Peyton is a big enough competitor that he wants to come out and play on every Sunday and wants to do well. I don’t second guess his talent at all and I think Peyton is one of the best backs in this league.”

On Sunday, Hillis had 10 carries and was targeted on six passes by quarterback Colt McCoy in the Browns’ 31-13 loss. Hillis essentially split time with second-year back Montario Hardesty, who had seven rushing attempts and was thrown to nine times.

The Browns are trying to figure out how best use the pair, who have only played three games together. Until they do, there will be games when Hillis gets more touches, and games where Hardesty has the bulk of the workload. It all depends on the game plan, Shurmur reasoned.

While he considers Hillis “our running back,” Shurmur understands the importance of getting both backs into a rhythm.

Peyton needs to play most of the time and I think he played 50 or so snaps, I think 55. Hardesty played in the 30s and there were times when they were in their together,” he said. “Peyton will get and should get more snaps and more carries. That’s just natural.”

Shurmur was also adamant that Hillis, one of the Browns' most popular players following his breakout 1,200-yard season in 2010, has a vital role in Cleveland’s West Coast offense.

Do Browns fans need to accept that Hillis will not have to “carry the load” as he once did?

“That part is hard for me because I wasn’t here a year ago,” Shurmur said. “I know he is a terrific player. He’s a big part of what we do. The running back in any offense, especially ours, is a very important piece and he needs to touch the football.”