Cleveland Browns  

 

Shurmur's schemes could help Hillis surge in production

Jonathan Brownfield / US Presswire
Peyton Hillis could be poised for another huge season thanks to new coach Pat Shurmur.


Peyton Hillis is not a one-year wonder.

He is not a flash in the pan or a byproduct of being a star on a bad team.

He is one of the best runners in the game, and the Cleveland Browns would be wise to build their offense around his remarkable talents.

That might appear presumptuous based on only one full season of major work, but those who've watched Hillis closely since his NFL arrival realize he is a special back with versatility that is uncommon for a player of his size.

At 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, Hillis is a big, physical back with a rugged running style. He specializes in punishing defenders upon contact, and his non-stop leg drive routinely leads to broken tackles and extra yardage. Although Hillis excels at grinding out tough yards, he has surprising quickness, agility and vision. His elusiveness is rare for a runner of his stature.

Hillis is also an outstanding receiving threat out of the backfield. He shines on screens and swing passes, which allow him to use his combination of power and balance in the open field.

Given an opportunity to show what he can do as a feature back, Hillis topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark (1,177) and was second on the Browns with 61 receptions. He ranked sixth in the league in yards from scrimmage (1,654) and finished with the third-most touchdowns (13) of any player in the league.

Don't expect Hillis' production to decline with Pat Shurmur at the helm.

The Browns' new coach spent the last two seasons directing a St. Louis Rams' offense driven by the talents of three-time Pro Bowler Steven Jackson. The big, bruising workhorse topped 1,500 yards from scrimmage in each of the past two years, and averaged 24.2 touches per game during that span.

The parallel between Jackson and Hillis is important. Both are big backs with similar skill sets, so it's likely Hillis will be used in a similar fashion as Jackson was under Shurmur. Shurmur also used zone-based run concepts in St. Louis, something Hillis thrived in as a rookie for the Denver Broncos.

Furthering the notion that Shurmur will make Hillis the focal point of the Browns' offense is the fact that he spent nearly a decade working as an assistant to Andy Reid. During that time, Brian Westbrook routinely finished near the top of the league in yards from scrimmage. That experience will certainly help Shurmur craft a plan that gets Hillis a number of touches as a runner or receiver.

If Hillis' sensational one-year run has placed him on the cusp of being regarded as one of the league's top backs, Shurmur's arrival and his creative game plan should push Hillis over the top.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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