BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Peyton Hillis would not let a summer rainstorm, slick turf, or six St. Louis Rams stop him.
Rain-soaked Cleveland Browns fans roared as Hillis, a former standout at Conway High and the University of Arkanas, broke six tackles on a gutty 9-yard run to start the second quarter Saturday night. It sparked Cleveland to its’ first touchdown in a 19-17 preseason loss.
"We got fired up seeing that," center Alex Mack said Sunday. "Anytime you see one of your guys running downhill, running over people, you just love it."
Hillis, thwarted at the line, broke to his right, and carried defenders with him. He flexed his muscles and stomped his feet after his battering Ram run.
The fans loved it. Coach Eric Mangini did, too. It was the type of effort he had seen Hillis contribute to Denver Broncos drives the past two years before being dealt for quarterback Brady Quinn in March.
"It was good to see the things he can do as a runner," Mangini said. "It was good to see things you remember him doing, which were reasons for the trade. He gives you a spark as a tough, physical guy."
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and quarterback Jake Delhomme liked Hillis’ bowling-ball routine so much they called his number four times on the next six plays: a 1-yard plunge; pass plays of 3 and 9 yards; and another bulldozing 4-yard run to the right.
"He’s the epitome of tough, rugged football," Delhomme said.
Hillis gained a team-leading 51 yards on 12 carries and credited teammates for creating his pile-pushing performance.
"I just try to do the best I can," said Hillis. "A lot of guys helped out with great blocking by the offensive line and (fullback Lawrence) Vickers. We got some things going, but we still have a long way to go."
The long way includes hanging on to the football. The Browns’ five turnovers — equal to the total they had in their final five games of last season, upset Mangini.
"It’s critical to protect the football in any kind of weather," Mangini said. "We looked back and one team out of 40 has won (in recent years) with five turnovers. You might as well play the powerball (lottery) at that point."
Power football is Hillis’ game. It is the style Mangini wants and what pleased him most as Cleveland overcame a 13-0 deficit with 17 straight points.
"We did some positive things when we played Browns football," Mangini said, adding that the squad had better get used to practicing in Cleveland’s harsh climate during the season.
"It is one reason I believe so fiercely in practicing in the elements," Mangini said. "We’re going to rent out the indoor facility for a car show."
Mangini’s glibness didn’t mask his disappointment in the mistake-prone loss that included seven penalties.
Hillis, who fumbled only once in two years with Denver, said he understands keeping the football is as important as advancing it.
"We had a lot of turnovers," he said. "If we hold on to the ball, a lot of things can be different. You know weather definitely plays a factor, but you’ve got to overcome that. Everybody’s going to play in tough-weather games — snow, rain, sleet — but you’ve got to hold onto the football."
Hillis had no fumbles as a rookie when he gained 343 yards on 68 runs for the Broncos in 2008. With a longest run of only 19 yards, his 5-yard average was particularly poignant as to his consistency. Denver changed coaches, however, and a new offensive philosophy limited him to 13 carries for 54 yards in 2009.
Mangini likely will give the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Hillis more opportunities to tote the football.
"He is tough with the ball in his hands," Mangini said. "He is more elusive than you think for a guy his size. He did add some, a little bit of fuel to the group. What’s frustrating is we shouldn’t be in the position where we need to add fuel."
Hillis’ hard-hitting style can be especially valuable as a blocker for Jerome Harrison, who led Cleveland with 862 yards rushing and five touchdowns in 2009.
"I kind of like to think I can do everything decently well," Hillis said. "It’s just putting me in position to be a playmaker, blocking, special teams, no matter what it may be. Whenever I go out there, I’m going to do my best."