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Hillis’ return could boost Chiefs’ running game

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012, at 7:20 p.m.

— By this time this season, Peyton Hillis planned on again being one of the NFL’s top rushers. Instead, he’s still trying to get his first year with the Chiefs off to a meaningful start.

That could happen as soon as Sunday’s game against Oakland at Arrowhead Stadium. Hillis, who suffered a high ankle sprain in last month’s game against New Orleans, returned to practice this week.

He was upgraded on the injury report Thursday to a full practice participant, increasing his chances of being available against the Raiders.

A return to the field couldn’t happen too soon for Hillis.

“It’s been rough. You kind of lose (your) identity,” Hillis said. “You want to get back on the field just because of how things are, and you know you can help the team win. I want to get back there to gain some confidence and help the team win.

“You kind of lose the identity because you’re sitting in the stands and you’re watching the guys play and it’s rough on you. It’s rough on you as a human being. It’s rough on you as a teammate and as a professional. It’s hard. You want to be out there with them, and you want to help them win, and you also want to do (well) for yourself. There are a lot of things in the equation that make it hard.”

Hillis’ season was becoming a disaster even before the injury. His most memorable play was his goal-line fumble against Buffalo, where he stretched to get into the end zone but lost the ball before he arrived.

Then came the injury. Hillis missed three games, all Chiefs losses, and has been passed on the Chiefs’ rushing chart by Shaun Draughn, who has 170 yards to Hillis’ 93.

Hillis also had a disappointing, injury-plagued season last year, when he played for Cleveland. He’s hoping to get his career back on track in Kansas City this season, but, so far at least, that hasn’t happened.

Though the Chiefs are 1-5, their running game hasn’t suffered without Hillis. They are third in the league in yardage, and among individuals, Jamaal Charles ranks sixth.

But the Chiefs are still struggling to score. They are 29th in the league in points per game and are hopeful the return of Hillis will help.

At the least, his return would help the Chiefs give more rest to Charles and allow them to be more versatile offensively.

“What he brings to the table are the things we talked about in the offseason when we acquired him,” coach Romeo Crennel said. “A big back who can catch the ball and break some tackles and has good vision and all of those kinds of things and is able to complement Jamaal as well. It makes the defense have to think twice about how they’re going to defend some things.

“He’s a guy who can break some tackles at the line of scrimmage and get into the secondary. The things he’s capable of doing, those things can help you.”

While Charles has his own set of skills, they differ greatly from those of Hillis.

“Jamaal is more like the Ferrari,” Hillis said. “I’m more like the 1972 El Camino. Jamaal is a great back. Everybody knows that. I’m just lucky enough to play in the same backfield.”

Crennel liked the automobile analogy.

“Those Ferraris are pretty fast,” Crennel said. “Those El Caminos are sturdy and built to ride. Basically, that’s the difference. They both can catch the ball out of the backfield. They both have good vision, make good cuts. They both have to take hits, but that El Camino can usually take more hits than the Ferrari will and still be able to function. The Ferrari always wants to look good, but the El Camino can have some dents in it but can still do a good job.”

All that remains is for Hillis to be cleared to play this weekend.

“We’ll see what (trainer Dave Price thinks) and what he wants me to do,” Hillis said. “I’m just going to keep plugging away, and hopefully I can play. I’m so hard-headed I always feel like I can do things. If I can be out there, I will.

“I’m close. I’m definitely close.”

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