On the eve of training camp, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive backfield is getting a significant shot of depth.
The Buccaneers announced on Tuesday afternoon the signing of running back Peyton Hillis to a one-year contract. The team reports to camp on Wednesday morning and will practice for the first time on Thursday.
To make room for Hillis on the 90-man camp roster, the Buccaneers released rookie running back Matt Brown. Brown, who played his college football at Temple, originally signed with the Buccaneers on May 30.
Hillis, originally a seventh-round pick of the Denver Broncos in 2008, first developed as a starting fullback in Denver – his primary position in college at Arkansas – before a trade to Cleveland spurred his emergence as a prolific ballcarrier. In 2010, he started 14 games for the Browns and racked up 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns on 270 carries, averaging 4.4 yards per tote. That performance in the first of his two years in Cleveland prompted fans to choose him as the cover subject for EA Sports' Madden NFL 12 in a nationwide vote the following spring.
Hillis first got his shot at tailback as a rookie with the Broncos in 2008. Following an injury to Ryan Torain, the 6-2, 250-pound Hillis was named the team's starting running back. He produced 343 yards on 68 carries (5.0 avg.) and 179 yards on 14 receptions, much of it during a four-game starting stretch before his own season was cut short by a knee injury.
After his playing time shrunk considerably in 2009, Hillis was traded along with two draft picks to the Browns in March of 2010 in exchange for quarterback Brady Quinn. He emerged as the starter in Cleveland by the season's third game and went on to finish sixth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,654) and tied for third in touchdowns (13). The 2010 season also produced Hillis' top single-season receiving numbers: 61 catches for 477 yards and two scores.
Hillis missed six games in 2011 due to injuries but produced another 587 yards and three touchdowns on 161 carries. He signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012 and contributed 309 rushing yards and 10 receptions for 62 yards. In all, Hillis has played in 65 NFL games and amassed 2,470 yards and 21 touchdowns on 597 carries plus 111 receptions for 867 yards and three additional scores.
Hillis, 27, is the second experienced veteran running back the Buccaneers have added in 2013 to back up 2012 rookie breakout star Doug Martin. The team also landed unrestricted free agent Brian Leonard in April; the former St. Louis Ram and Cincinnati Bengal has played in 71 NFL games and also has spent time at both fullback and tailback. The Bucs also used a sixth-round draft pick on Miami running back Mike James in April.
Martin ranked fifth in the NFL with 1,454 rushing yards last season and, with 1,926 total yards from scrimmage, narrowly missed becoming the third rookie in NFL history to surpass 2,000. Martin's 319 carries ranked fourth in the NFL behind Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson and fellow rookie Alfred Morris, and his 368 offensive touches trailed only the totals put up by Foster and Peterson. Should the Buccaneers choose to redistribute some of Martin's touches in 2013, they certainly will have plenty of options.