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Browns' Thomas rips former teammate Peyton Hillis

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Browns' Thomas rips former teammate Peyton Hillis

BEREA, Ohio (AP) Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas once blocked and did all he could to protect Peyton Hillis from harm.

On Wednesday, he steamrolled his former teammate.

With Hillis coming to Cleveland this week as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, Thomas unloaded on the bruising running back, saying he didn't always play hard and accused Hillis of putting his contract situation ahead of the team.

Thomas felt it was selfish behavior.

``It was a terrible distraction,'' Thomas said following practice. ``He crippled our offense. We were struggling to find anybody who could carry the ball after all the injuries we had. To have Peyton going through a contract dispute and basically refusing to play, it was a big distraction. But more than anything, he was our starting running back that was a good player who was going to help us be a successful offense.

``When he's not there and you don't have anybody to turn to, it makes it hard to win. And that's the distraction, it's not being successful.''

Hillis was the toast of Cleveland in 2011. He rushed for 1,177 yards, scored 11 touchdowns and endeared himself to Browns fans with his bull-in-a-china-shop running style. Following the season, Hillis was selected to have his likeness on the cover of the popular Madden video game, a choice that seemed to trigger his undoing.

He wanted a long-term contract with the Browns, and took his campaign public. From the start, his season unraveled as greed seemed to consume him.

``He was everything people knew about him - hard-working, blue-collar, tough, would do anything for anybody on the team,'' Thomas said. ``All he cared about was winning, and then all of a sudden the next year, all he cared about was trying to get his new contract.''

Hillis sat out Cleveland's third game with strep throat on the advice of his agent, Kennard McGuire. He missed several other games with a hamstring injury, and while he was rehabbing one week, Hillis left the team and missed a treatment to get married in Arkansas. There were other issues, including when Hillis skipped a Halloween charity event for kids - an absence he blamed on a miscommunication.

It was a soap opera.

And to Thomas, it never seemed to end.

``It was kind of one weird thing after another more than anything,'' Thomas said. ``We have guys getting married during the season and it's not a big deal. When you're injured (Thomas used his fingers to make quotations in the air) and you should be getting treatment, to go do your own thing repeatedly was just disrespectful more than anything to his teammates.

``I don't think people would have acted the same way if they were in that situation.''

Thomas was one of several veterans who intervened during the season and encouraged Hillis to clean up his act. Thomas said Hillis made things hard on himself, and in turn, on everyone else.

``You see a lot of guys in contract disputes, like Matt Forte,'' Thomas said. ``His solution was `I'm going to go out and prove they have to have me and they can't play without me.' The frustrating thing to a lot of teammates was you would try to talk to him and you try to tell him `That's not the right way to do it if you want to get your big contract.' He just wouldn't listen to anybody.

``People who thought they were very close friends with him, he wouldn't listen to anybody. He thought he knew the right way to do it and it ended up not being the right way and hurting everybody. Not just himself. It was a tough situation.''

Hillis never did get that long-term contract with the Browns, who decided to let him hit the free-agent market. He signed a one-year deal with the Chiefs during the offseason. He has rushed for 193 yards on 59 carries with one TD so far this season.

Thomas said he couldn't imagine Hillis still being around.

``I think it was better for both sides (he left),'' Thomas said. ``At that point, the situation with him here was toxic and he didn't want to be here and players didn't want him here. It was better for a fresh start.''

Browns coach Pat Shurmur refused to address the turbulence caused by Hillis last season.

``I'm going to talk about Peyton Hillis the 2012 version,'' Shurmur said. ``I'd be happy to answer any questions there. No, I won't put it into words.''

Hillis gained just 19 yards on 12 attempts last week when the Chiefs beat Carolina 27-21 one day after linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend at their Kansas City home then drove with a handgun to Arrowhead Stadium, where he shot himself in front of Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli.

Thomas was asked if Hillis might come to Cleveland looking to settle a grudge.

``"He might,'' Thomas said. ``I guess I haven't watched their offense, so I don't really know what his role is. I'm sure he'll probably want to come in here and prove they made a mistake by not re-signing him. It will be interesting to see how many opportunities they give him.''

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NOTES: Browns S Usama Young practiced for the first time since sustaining a concussion against Pittsburgh on Nov. 25. He missed Sunday's game at Oakland. ... Browns RB Trent Richardson said if he had a Heisman vote he would give it to Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. ``I like him and I like the way he plays football,'' said Richardson, who was on the sideline when Manziel upset Alabama, Richardson's alma mater. Richardson is also close friends with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, another Heisman finalist.

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Here's a small example of Dwayne Haskins' leadership, as told by Matthew Berry

Here's a small example of Dwayne Haskins' leadership, as told by Matthew Berry

ESPN Fantasy Football expert Matthew Berry was at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere last weekend in Los Angeles, where he got the chance to interview the three Redskins rookies in attendance: Dwayne Haskins, Terry McLaurin, and Bryce Love. 

Berry, who was a guest of JP Finlay's on the Redskins Talk podcast on Thursday, has been a fan of the Burgundy and Gold since he was a kid, so he was eager to talk to three of the team's newest players and learn more about them.

It was during those interviews where Berry got a quick glimpse of a side of Haskins that now has Berry really excited.

"I thought what was really cool was... When I was interviewing McLaurin, Dwayne Haskins came in and interrupted the interview to give him some crap," he told Finlay. "It was really a wonderful moment to see. Obviously, they know each other very well from Ohio State, but just the fact that they felt comfortable enough and he wanted to come over and mess with him a little bit and have some fun, I was impressed with that."

Once Haskins left, Berry explained how he asked McLaurin about the interaction. Redskins fans will like McLaurin's answer.

"That's Dwayne, Dwayne is being a leader," McLaurin said, per Berry. 

Haskins did something similar to Love during Love's interview as well. Berry even caught up with Colts receiver Parris Campbell, who also played with the QB at Ohio State, to inquire about the 15th overall pick. 

"I asked him, 'Listen, I'm a diehard Redskins fan, what am I getting?'" Berry said. "He couldn't have been more effusive. 'You're not only getting a guy who puts the ball where you want it, but you're getting a leader. You're getting a guy who makes sure everyone in the huddle is included.'"

You can be skeptical of how much these little moments mean, and that's fair. Ultimately, how quickly Haskins picks up Jay Gruden's playbook and how accurate his arm turns out to be will factor more into his success in the NFL than being able to joke around a bit with some of his guys.

But you can also hope that these little moments are hints of a bigger personality and approach, a look into an athlete who can get a football team to buy into him. That's the side Berry is on.

"I thought that was really cool, and just showed somebody who's very comfortable in the leadership position and who's trying to be inclusive of everyone," he said. "It's early in the process, but I have yet to hear somebody on or off the record say something bad about Dwayne Haskins."

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WNBA Finals loss only more fuel for Elena Delle Donne, Mystics heading into 2019 season

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WNBA Finals loss only more fuel for Elena Delle Donne, Mystics heading into 2019 season

For Elena Delle Donne and the Mystics, last season's heartbreak in the WNBA Finals is only fuel for another potential postseason run in 2019. 

"That's something I don't think I'll ever let go," Washington's star forward told Chris Miller on the latest episode of the Wizards Talk podcast. "It's always tough when you get to that Finals and you can't finish it off. But I think it's something that can fuel you. You don't want to let it just bring you down and depress you and make it so you can't get over that hump."

"If you use it as fuel and motivation, it can help you get better. I think that's what we're all gonna do."

The Mystics reached their first WNBA Finals in franchise history in 2018 but ultimately lost to the Seattle Storm. Delle Donne, recently named in WNBA.com's GM survey as the favorite to win league MVP, is back for her third season in Washington and headlines a strong team that has the talent to compete for the title again.

Her status for Saturday's season opener against the Connecticut Sun is up in the air due to a left knee injury, but Delle Donne believes the Mystics will have another great season given the continuity on the roster from last season and the return of All-Star forward Emma Meesseman. 

"We feel great. We've got our core back," said Delle Donne. "And to be able to add a superstar like Emma to that roster is pretty scary. Especially with her style of play and the way that our team started playing last season, where it was such positionless basketball. Spreading the floor, just spreading it, making it easy for one another to attack, get some threes. She's just gonna add so much to that."

NBC Sports Washington will be broadcasting 10 Mystics home games during the 2019 WNBA season. For the full regular season schedule, click here.

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