BEREA - Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas has saved some of his hardest hits for former teammate Peyton Hillis.
Thomas hasn't been shy about criticizing Hillis for his off-the-field actions in a failed attempt to get a contract extension while playing running back for the Browns last season. During training camp Thomas told the Tribune Chronicle that no one in the locker room would have chosen Hillis if they had been asked to pick sides.
Thomas went off on Hillis again Wednesday. He first responded to his comments of last summer when he said that the Browns didn't have a running back because of the six games Hillis missed with a hamstring injury and a case of strep throat.
The Associated Press
In this Nov. 21, 2010, file photo, Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis, left, runs for yardage while picking up a block from teammates Joe Thomas (73) against Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox, right, during the first half of a game in Jacksonville, Fla. Thomas called former teammate Peyton Hillis ‘a terrible distraction’ last season, and said the running back put his contract situation ahead of the team. Hillis is returning to play in Cleveland this week with the Kansas City Chiefs.
"It wasn't intended to be a shot. It's just the facts," Thomas said. "He decided that his contract was more important than him coming out and helping his team win. It left us without a running back. Then we had a few injuries that hurt us further, with Montario (Hardesty) being down and Brandon Jackson, who wasn't in training camp (because of a foot injury). You had Peyton, and he decided to go out and try to get a new contract a certain way, and it ended up hurting the other 52 guys in the locker room. That was his decision."
Hillis, who's with the Kansas City Chiefs this season, had a career season in 2010 after arriving in Cleveland in a trade with the Broncos that sent quarterback Brady Quinn to Denver. Hillis rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns on 270 carries, and he added 477 yards and two touchdowns on 61 receptions.
Hillis was selected as the cover boy for the "Madden 11" video game through a national voting contest. He had everything he wanted, with the exception of a contract extension.
The 2011 season started well for Hillis, who rushed for 94 yards and two touchdowns in a week two win over the Indianapolis Colts. Things started to go downhill the next week when he pulled himself out of the lineup prior to a game against the Miami Dolphins with a reported case of strep throat.
Hillis played the next two games but then missed five straight with a hamstring injury. Thomas questions why Hillis didn't try to play through the strep throat and injury.
"I don't think strep throat and whatever other injuries he had should keep you out of a NFL game," Thomas said. "All I know is that Alex Mack's appendix blew up and he played."
Hillis played in the last six games of the season, tacking on a 99-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Arizona Cardinals and a 112-yard, one-touchdown showing against the Baltimore Ravens. That wasn't enough to change Thomas' opinion of his former teammate.
"He wasn't real popular around here with the way he went about his business," Thomas said. "Not that they didn't like him as a person, but the way he hurt the team by not coming to play.
"From what everyone knew about him was that he was hard-working, blue-collar and tough. Would do anything for anybody on the team and all he cared about was winning, and all of a sudden next year all he cared about was trying to get a new contract."
Thomas believes that Hillis was given poor advice by those close to him.
"I don't begrudge a guy for trying to get his contract," Thomas said. "This is a business for us, just like it's a business for the owners. There's a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it, and the way he chose really hurt the team."
Some of the veteran players confronted Hillis about his attitude.
"A lot of the guys tried to give him guidance, but he wasn't listening to his friends in the locker room," Thomas said.
Coach Pat Shurmur refused to respond to a question about Hillis' contributions in 2011.
"I'm going to talk about Peyton Hillis, the 2012 version," Shurmur said.
The Browns' decision to no re-sign Hillis was greeted well in the locker room.
"It was better for both sides," Thomas said. "At that point the situation was toxic. He didn't want to be here, and the players didn't want him here. It's better for a fresh start at that point."