Browns' backfield in motion

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BEREA, Ohio (AP)

Two weeks ago, running back Chris Ogbonnaya was on Houston's practice squad, waiting for his chance. On Sunday, he'll play - against the Texans.

Such is life in the unpredictable NFL.

"It's crazy. This league is crazy," said Ogbonnaya, signed by the Browns on Oct. 18. "There are opportunities that come out of nowhere, come out of different circumstances, different situations."

You want crazy and different?

Well, Cleveland's the place.

The Browns have undergone a maddening makeover in the offensive backfield this season as an eruption of injuries have sidelined running backs Peyton Hillis, Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson, who suffered a season-ending toe injury in an exhibition.

With Hillis, who has been a lightning rod for controversy, sidelined by a hamstring injury, the Browns signed Ogbonnaya last month. And with Hardesty down after tearing a calf muscle last week that could keep him out for several games, the team signed free agent Thomas Clayton earlier this week following a tryout.

The Browns' 29th ranked running game is hurting. It could be in greater pain Sunday when Cleveland faces the Houston Texans, who have the league's third-ranked defense.

However, the Browns finally got some encouraging news Thursday when Hillis made it through his first practice in more than a week and said he's on track to play Sunday after missing Cleveland's previous two games. It was Hillis' first practice since Oct. 26, when he pushed his tender hamstring too hard and suffered a setback.

"I went through practice and was smarter about it and came out healthy," Hillis said. "My mind's starting to get back to where I feel more comfortable and more confident about going out there and doing what I need to do."

Hardesty's injury has given Hillis a chance to make amends for a tumultuous, and to this point, unproductive season. The 25-year-old, who rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 TDs last season, has made more headlines for his off-the-field issues than anything he's done between the goal posts.

There's been his contract squabble, his decision to sit out a game with strep throat, his surprise marriage last week and a miscommunication that caused him to miss a Halloween charity event for children. Although he hasn't intended to be a distraction, he's been just that.

The Browns now need him to do one thing: take the ball and run.

"I feel like the guys are looking up to me and need me to come out there to produce for them and for the team," Hillis said. "They expect a lot out of me, probably even more than I expect from myself. That makes me want to work harder for them. At this point, I'm trying to get healthy and trying to make sure I don't do anything stupid by going out there and reinjuring or re-aggravating anything and try to get back Sunday."

The return of a healthy Hillis would be welcomed relief for Ogbonnaya. Last week, the Houston native was forced to stay on the field for nearly the entire game after Hardesty, starting in place of Hillis, got hurt in the first quarter. Ogbonnaya was already playing special teams and had to double his workload.

Ogbonnaya finished with 11 carries for 37 yards, had five receptions and gave everything he had.

"At halftime, he's gassed," said quarterback Colt McCoy, who was also Ogbonnaya's teammate in college. "He's on special teams, he's the personal protector on punts. The guy played almost every play. By the fourth quarter when we started making a run, he's gassed, and that hurt us. I think having Thomas will help us this week."

Clayton was home in Massachusetts staying in shape and hoping to hear from a team when the Browns called on Monday. He was with Cleveland three different times last season, so there was a familiarity with him and some of the coaches.

"I think the learning curve will be pretty easy considering I'm familiar with a lot of the players here and the coaching staff as well. Everyone's been pretty helpful. So I should be able to get out there and contribute pretty soon."

Notes: Browns WR Mohamed Massaquoi practiced for the first time since suffering a concussion on Oct. 23. He sat out last week's game. Massaquoi said his symptoms were different from what he experienced last season when he got a concussion from a helmet-to-helmet hit by Steelers linebacker James Harrison. "I don't think the impact was as forceful," he said. "It was just one of those things. I got hit in the right way. We have one of the best medical staffs in the league. So I feel really good, ready to go back out there and play." ... CB Dimitri Patterson (knee) missed his second straight practice and will likely miss Sunday's game. ... Coach Pat Shurmur isn't planning to replace Tony Pashos at right starting tackle. Both Artis Hicks and Oneil Cousins shared reps in practice with Pashos, who has been battling an ankle injury, but Shurmur said "I wouldn't read into that."

Tagged: Browns, Thomas Clayton, Peyton Hillis, Chris Ogbonnaya, Montario Hardesty

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