BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Peyton Hillis is finally putting the focus on football - and only football. After a drama-filled start to this season, Cleveland's running back, whose contract situation, strep throat sickness that cost him to miss one game and a hamstring injury that sidelined him last week have blanketed the Browns for weeks, said after returning to practice on Wednesday that he's not going to discuss his future with the team again this season. "I would rather not talk about a contract the rest of the year," Hillis said.
"There's no sense in it. It's in the past and I want to move forward from here on out. I've got to play and that's the bottom line." Hillis practiced for the first time since hurting his hamstring in the first half of Cleveland's loss at Oakland on Oct. 16.
The injury was the latest chapter in what has been a weekly soap opera surrounding the tough-nosed back, who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards last season and wound up on the cover of the Madden video game. Wearing an orange Browns baseball cap, Hillis stood near the center of Cleveland's locker room as he has all season and fielded questions.
This time, however, there was no talk about his hopes to sign a long-term deal with the Browns. Last week, team president Mike Holmgren said the sides decided to put negotiations on hold and "let Peyton play, let the dust settle a little bit and see what happens." That's fine with Hillis. "We've got to move forward from this because you don't need any distractions," he said. "I'm not going to be a distraction. I'm going to help this team win as much as I possibly can and do what I can."
Hillis was limited during practice as the Browns (3-3) began installing their gameplan for Sunday's matchup with the San Francisco 49ers (5-1). Hillis, whose hamstring was heavily wrapped, didn't appear to have any problems running or cutting during the portion of the workout open to media members.
In last week's win over Seattle, Montario Hardesty replaced Hillis and rushed for 95 yards on 33 carries, the kind of workload Hillis would like to get. Browns coach Pat Shurmur made it clear that if Hillis is healthy and can play, he will start. "He's our starting halfback and if he's able to go, he'll be the starter," Shurmur said. Hillis said it was tough to stand in street clothes on the sideline last week and watch the Browns run the ball 44 times. "It kills you every time you're not out there," he said.
"But it was good to see the guys run the ball pretty well and get the offense back and the chemistry back." Hillis has been inactive twice this season - and the Browns are 2-0 without him. He sat out Cleveland's game on Sept. 25 against Miami with strep throat and flu-like symptoms, following the advice of his agent, Kennard McGuire. That decision led to suspicions Hillis didn't play because of his contract, a charge he strongly denied. Then, he got hurt against the Raiders and the Browns' complicated the situation b
y initially reporting Hillis wasn't hurt and was being kept out by Shurmur. It wasn't Hillis' intent to cause a distraction, but that's what has happened - at least outside Cleveland's locker room. Linebacker Scott Fujita said the Hillis hubbub hasn't bothered the Browns.. "It's not talked about in here at all," he said. "I hear about it a lot when I leave the building, there's a buzz. But if we win a couple games, and he comes out and has a good game and gets healthy, it will put all that stuff to bed."
Shurmur has faith Hillis, who has rushed for 211 yards on 60 carries, can put the drama behind him and still have a productive season. "I'm very confident and we're looking forward to him performing on Sunday and having a good game," he said. "I've told this to players in the past that your next great performance is right on the horizon and we're hoping for him it's Sunday." Hillis, too, believes better days are ahead.
He's got 10 games left to show that last season was no fluke and prove to the Browns - or the rest of the league - he's worthy of a big contract. "There's a lot of time," he said. "That's on me and getting healthy and producing. I put that on myself."
Hillis, who can become a free agent when the season ends, could have chosen not to talk about his contract this season. But he didn't. Perhaps because of his popularity with Browns fans, he decided to negotiate through the media, a strategy that may have backfired and cost him some respect. But Hillis insists he wouldn't do things any differently. "I'm not the kind of guy that looks back and regrets things," he said. "No matter what happens, you have to keep a positive mindset and here on out, no matter if it's good or it's bad, you just take it and roll with the punches."
Notes: Fujita practiced for the first time since suffering a concussion against the Raiders. He sat out last week's game, and praised the Browns' medical staff for the way they handled his head injury. "We were smart about it," said Fujita, who has sustained past concussions. "I feel fine." ... WR Mohamed Massaquoi and TE Ben Watson have not been cleared to practice after sustaining concussions Sunday. Both took part in team meetings and watched practice. Shurmur has not ruled them out for this week. ... K Phil Dawson was also an observer as he recovers from a thigh bruise. Special teams coach Chris Tabor is confident Dawson will play against the 49ers. ... Starting RG Shawn Lauvao, who hyperextended his knee against Seattle, was limited in practice