Hillis excited to be in camp with Buccaneers

Former 1,000-yard rusher Peyton Hillis is hoping a change of
scenery will help him get a once-promising NFL career back on
track.

The sixth-year pro signed a one-year contract with the Tampa Bay
Buccaneers last month and is competing for a job to play behind Pro
Bowl running back Doug Martin.

Hillis rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and scored 13 touchdowns
for Cleveland in 2010, however he hasn’t been nearly as productive
over the past two seasons with the Browns and Kansas City
Chiefs.

Martin ran for more than 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012, but
the Bucs don’t have an established backup. They are giving Hillis,
another veteran Brian Leonard and rookie Mike James a chance to
earn the role.

”I’m here, trying to do the best that I can,” Hillis said.
”I’ve been humbled over the past couple of years, and I’m just
happy to be in a place they want me to be and a place where I can
try to produce again.”

Hillis entered the NFL as a seventh-round draft pick in 2008 and
started eight games in two seasons with the Denver Broncos. He
moved to Cleveland three years old ago and flourished in a featured
role with the Browns, rushing for 1,177 yards and catching 61
passes for another 477 yards.

The 6-foot-2, 250-pound running back became a fan favorite
during his breakout season and was selected to appear on the cover
of the next year’s Madden video game.

His career has been in decline ever since.

Injuries have been a factor. And at least one former teammate,
Cleveland offensive tackle Joe Thomas, was quoted last season as
saying Hillis’ performance with the Browns slipped after the
running back – eager to capitalize on his success from the previous
year – put his desire for a new contract before the team.

Hillis said his focus is on the future, trying to earn a job
with the Bucs – not what happened in Cleveland in 2011 or last year
in Kansas City, where the 27-year-old played behind three-time
1,000-yard rusher Jamaal Charles and averaged a career-low 3.6
yards per carry while running for 309 yards and one TD.

”Some things in life there’s no rhyme or reason. I just try to
take one step at a time and try to re-evaluate the situation,”
Hillis said. ”I can’t go back to my past and change things. I can
only move forward. That’s what I’m going to do.”

Hillis is listed behind Martin, Leonard and James,, a
sixth-round draft pick, on the depth chart for Thursday’s preseason
opener against Baltimore.

Coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik were drawn
to the running back’s size, as well as the success he enjoyed with
Cleveland. Hillis started 23 games over two seasons with the
Browns, rushing for 1,764 yards and scoring 16 touchdowns – 14 of
them on the ground.

”I liked the way he played, and so did Mark. We felt like he
was a good fit for us right now with our running back and fullback
situation. He’s a guy who brings some versatility to the position.
He can be the ball carrier, I think he can block. He’s a bigger
back,” Schiano said.

If he makes the team, Hillis could wind up playing a role
similar to one filled a year ago by another former 1,000-yard
rusher, LeGarrette Blount, who carried 41 times for 151 yards as
Martin’s backup.

Blount was traded to New England this spring, leaving the Bucs
in the market for a big back such as Hillis, and even the 225-pound
Leonard, who signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent after spending
the past four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.

”He’s done it in this league, and I think we needed to create
quality depth,” Schiano said. ”We have our guy in Doug, but we
need to create quality depth and we need to create competition as
well.”

Hillis, who’s still learning the playbook, is excited about the
opportunity.

”I’m out here learning a little bit of everything – tailback,
fullback … a little bit of everything,” he said. ”Hopefully I
will be able to establish myself and help this team win.”