Pregame: Get acquainted with new personnel in Vikings-Browns
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings (0-2) are in desperate need of a confidence booster in their home opener after spotting division opponents two games on the road.
The script couldn't have been written any easier: they'll face a Cleveland Browns (0-2) team that flipped the switch to rebuilding mode as soon as Week 3 after trading star running back Trent Richardson on Wednesday.
On Sunday, the Browns' will start their 19th quarterback since 1999 when they tryout third-string signal caller Brian Hoyer as a potential starter instead of proven backup Jason Campbell after starter Brandon Weeden went down with a thumb injury.
"You can only speculate how different it will be with Brian Hoyer at quarterback, how different it will be with [Willis] McGahee," Coach Leslie Frazier said. "[Also] brining back their number one receiver from a suspension. We'll have to see as the game goes on exactly who the Browns are."
"It's hard to say, hard to predict. We have tape to go off of, but all of the tape we had to go off of, it's going to be different people in those roles now."
The Browns signed veteran running back Willis McGahee this week and word is he'll play on Sunday. Second-year receiver Josh Gordon, who averaged 16.1 yards on 50 catches his rookie season, returns from a two-game suspension.
The Vikings' defense will have to be adaptive when playing the little-known Browns personnel, but they have one thing their front office hasn't taken from them yet -- the motivation to win.
Instead of dissecting matchups, we'll summarize the moving parts to get you better acquainted with Hoyer, McGahee and the Browns.
Who is Brian Hoyer?
A former Michigan State quarterback, Hoyer has one start in five NFL seasons after being drafted by the New England Patriots and learning behind future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady for three years.
Hoyer, 27, bounced around between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals last season, making his only career start in Week 17 with the Cardinals in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The loss, combined with the Vikings' season finale win over the Green Bay Packers, guaranteed the 49ers a first-round bye last year.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski clearly isn't enamored with incumbent starter Brandon Weeden, saying this week he'll "keep his options open" should Hoyer impress against the Vikings on Sunday. As the offensive coordinator in 2007, Chudzinski oversaw the quarterback transition from starter Charlie Frye to backup Derek Anderson, which resulted in a record-setting 10-6 year.
Chudzinski said the move to take Hoyer (1 start) over Campbell (71 starts) was about "the best fit" and who "gave us the best chance to win," however, it's clearly a ploy to see if Hoyer can be the quarterback of the future as you already know what Campbell is.
There's not much to take away from Hoyer, other than he likes to run, evident by his 25 career rushes next to 96 pass attempts.
After allowing more than 320 pass yards per game (26th) to quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford, the Vikings' defense will be Hoyer's first test to either breakout or break down.
McGahee's still playing?
Former Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee hasn't played since Nov. 18, when he injured his right knee and missed the last 1.5 months before being cut by the Broncos in June.
Most likely sitting on his couch up until this week, McGahee was given the green light by Chudzinski, who said the veteran played in a similar system with the Ravens and should be ready to hit the ground running.
McGahee told reporters this week his knee injury is "100 percent, otherwise I wouldn't have passed the physical."
The Browns' only have two other ball carriers on their roster in return man Bobby Rainey (second-year player with zero carries) and fullback Chris Ogbannaya after the franchise dealt former No. 3-overall pick Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday for a 2014 first-round pick.
"I've been trying to watch preseason tape of [Hoyer] and now I'm trying to throw darts and see who the running back is going to be," Defensive end Jared Allen said. "If it's McGahee, at least we can go watch film on him."
McGahee has faced the Vikings three times in his nine-year career, seeing the best results as a Bronco in 2011 when he finished with 20 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown in the 35-32 win.
The Browns OL
Weeden hurt his thumb after smacking it against an offensive lineman's helmet in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Ravens last week.
Browns linemen have essentially been living in the lap of their quarterback after allowing a league-high 11 sacks through two games this season. They allowed 20 quarterback pressures on Weeden's 40 dropbacks against the Ravens.
Right tackle Joe Thomas is the only established veteran of the group (a six-time Pro Bowler) and will likely be left 1-on-1 against Allen as the Browns slide protection to the right side, where right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has given up five of the 11 sacks so far.
"Watching a lot of film on Joe, they leave him on an island quite a bit. And rightfully so. If he's not the top offensive tackle in the league, he's definitely one of them," Allen said. "You don't see too many [1-on-1's], especially with how offenses have evolved these days, a lot of chip outs, max pro looks."
Schwartz, the younger brother of former Vikings guard Geoff Schwartz, has struggled mightily after starting every game as a rookie last season and will face defensive end Brian Robison, who will get back on stable turf after a sloppy outing in Chicago.
• The Vikings offensive line bounced back with a decent outing against the Chicago Bears last week. After allowing 16 quarterback pressures at the Detroit Lions (most since 2011), the line allowed just seven on quarterback Christian Ponder's 37 dropbacks.
• Look for more Vikings receivers to get into the action as fullback Rhett Ellison (knee) joins Jerome Felton (suspension) on the bench, leaving rookie fullback Zach Line and tight ends John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph as the only backfield options along with running back Adrian Peterson. That also means rookie Cordarrelle Patterson should at least double his snap count from the 11 plays he's seen so far this season.
• Linebackers Desmond Bishop and rookie Michael Mauti should make their debuts on special teams as Ellison sits out and the team has apparently pulled running back Matt Asiata off various units, possibly due to a few missed assignments last week at Soldier Field.
Sans Ellison, the Vikings should be at full strength on Sunday.
FB/TE Rhett Ellison (knee)
DT Fred Evans (shoulder)
LB Erin Henderson (heel)
S Harrison Smith (shoulder)
C John Sullivan (knee)
DT Kevin Williams (knee)
G Brandon Fusco (shoulder)
T Phil Loadholt (knee)
S Mistral Raymond (shoulder)
WR Greg Jennings did not participate in Friday's practice for personal reasons, but Frazier said he will play Sunday.