The NFL is a league that has transformed from the feature back system to a more stable two back system. Usually each team will have a "Thunder Back" to hit the holes hard for short yardage, followed by a speedy "Lightning Back" to gain long yards and score points. This year's Cleveland Browns have a loaded backfield. While there is no talent in the Orange and Brown like an Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson, there is Jerome Harrison (Lightning), Peyton Hillis (Thunder), and Lawrence Vickers (Thunder). This is the most talented backfield the Browns have had since the days of Mack and Byner. This doesn't even include the unknown, rookie third round draft pick Montario Hardesty who has missed significant time in camp due to a knee injury. Also included in the unknown is second year player James Davis from Clemson and Chris Jennings, a former practice squad player who looked solid for the Browns at the end of last season.
Peyton Hillis comes to the Cleveland Browns from Denver where he struggled to get consistent playing time. Hillis was part of the compensation for a man destined to be a back up Quarterback the rest of his career, Brady Quinn. Thunder Brother Hillis is the stereotypical "Angry White Running Back" in the same mold as Mike Alstott, except bigger and plays angrier. His performance against the St. Louis Rams was incredible. He intentionally tossed his body at Rams defenders who buckled down in pain. Hillis is listed at 6'1 and 240lbs. I'd wager to say that 238 of those 240lbs is solid muscle. As a seventh round selection out of Arkansas where Hillis was the lead full back for current Oakland Raiders Running Back Darren McFadden and current Dallas Cowboy Felix Jones, Hillis has never found his niche in the league. That is guaranteed to change this season as Hillis will finally get playing time for the Cleveland Browns.
The man who will be the lead blocker for Peyton Hillis and his tag team partner in the Thunder Brothers is Lawrence Vickers. Vickers is listed as the starting Full Back for the Cleveland Browns and is the best Full Back in the league for blocking. I challenge anyone to find me a Full Back who blocks harder and faster than Number 47 in the Orange and Brown. Vickers, out of the University of Colorado hits hard, very hard. He's entering his fifth season with the Browns who drafted him in the sixth round of the 2006 Draft. Vickers, as a lead blocker can't be beaten. The other main facet of Vickers game I love is how he plays against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Of his three career touchdowns, all have come against the Steelers on short yardage plays. You can't downplay success against your top rival.
The lightning portion of this trio is Jerome Harrison. Harrison is one of the most underrated Running Backs in the league, out of Washington State. Harrison had struggled to gain playing time from the various coaches the Browns have had the last few seasons. Romeo Crennel felt he was too small and didn't block enough. Eric Mangini felt Jamal Lewis was the best option to win now, but a season ending (possibly career ending as well) concussion pressed Harrison into duty last year. Harrison led the Browns with 286 yards and three touchdowns against Kansas City in a win last season. Harrison has to quote Gus Johnson "Get Away From the Cops Speed." With 561 yards and 5 touchdowns in the final three games of the regular season last year, Harrison has finally arrived. The Cleveland Browns expect more of the same this season, for Harrison.
The unknown trio also has some intriguing potential. James Davis is a hard running who hits holes quick. Last year Davis showed signs of potential during several pre-season games with the first team offense. A shoulder injury that occurred during practice, led to Davis being put on Injured Reserve October 3, 2009. Chris Jennings was signed by the Browns off the Montreal Alouettes practice squad and debuted October 4 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Jennings off season activities included an arrest for assault outside the door of a nightclub. No charges were filed.
The last of the unknowns rookie Montario "Bad Intentions" Hardesty. The rookie out of Tennessee has been talked about as a potential starter in the very near future. A knee injury during the pre-season has prevented Hardesty from being on the field for a practice. Head Coach Eric Mangini expects Hardesty back on the field this week for practice, with hope to play Saturday against Detroit in the Great Lakes Classic. Hardesty is a Running Back out of the mold of his mentor and fellow Tennessee alum, Jamal Lewis. If Hardesty, Hillis, and Vickers end up in the backfield at the same time, the defense will be in store for a lot of hard, bruising runs, and pain.
While the on field commodity is uncertain, The Browns and their fans have a lot to be excited about with the backfield group. Mangini is a coach who likes to run the football. This season will be no different. Hardesty, Harrison, Hillis, and Vickers will all definitely get touches. There will be lots of highlight level runs from the Cleveland Browns Running Backs. Smash-mouth football is back in Cleveland.