It was a tale of two days with Chris Cook. As he prepared himself for practice Wednesday, he learned that the Cleveland Browns team he and his Vikings teammates would be facing would be without starting quarterback Brandon Weeden, who suffered a thumb injury last Sunday and won't play against the Vikings.
Asked about the change at quarterback, Cook made the offhanded remark that the Browns might be leaning more on running back Trent Richardson with the decision to checker-jump No. 2 quarterback Jason Campbell – a former starter in Washington and Oakland – to go with Brian Hoyer, who has one career start – a 27-13 loss the San Francisco in Week 17 of the 2012 season.
After practice Wednesday, when news broke that Richardson had been traded to Indianapolis, Cook initially thought he had heard it wrong. Even when he confirmed it was true, he had a hard time processing it.
"I didn't see that one coming," Cook said. "They had an offense that centered on him. In a lot of ways, it's the same as us. We have Adrian at the centerpiece of our offense and, even if he isn't part of the play, he impacts what their offense does. For him to be gone wasn't something I expected."
The Browns signed Willis McGahee to a contract Thursday afternoon as a short-term replacement for the between-the-tackles style of back, but the focus is more on Hoyer getting his first (and perhaps only) opportunity to show what he can do. It's a move that some might see as being tantamount to the Vikings skipping over Matt Cassel and replacing Christian Ponder with McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
It was a surprising move, but Cook reiterated that nobody is taking Hoyer lightly despite his thin professional résumé.
"He's still a quarterback in the NFL, so you have to respect him," Cook said. "I won't say that it will change our game plan that much, but we're going to come out and play assignment football. The one thing that we have been told is that he's going to get rid of the ball in a hurry. That's what he does."
The difference between the Browns offense that played Baltimore to a near-draw last Sunday to the one that will take center stage at the Metrodome Sunday will be as pronounced as a team could face in one week – broken bad. Effectively, the offense has been imploded. The result will be that the Browns offense with Hoyer and running backs TBD will revert to the basic tenets of the Browns offense. The personnel will change. The play-calling won't.
"They're going to run the same plays," Cook said. "They may have different people running them, but I don't think their scheme is going to change. They still have the same receivers and that's what I'm dealing with. To me, it's about our defense working as a unit. If we get pressure up front, then they have to rush what they want to do. If we execute on our end, we're going to have a chance to make plays."
Hoyer's pedestrian performance as Arizona's fourth starter – not pitcher for the Diamondbacks, a quarterback for the Cardinals – wasn't the most impressive, but the Vikings are aware that Hoyer spent three years at the feet of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. What made Brady a solid quarterback was the same thing that made Matt Cassel millions of dollars – a quick release that is predicated on timing and accuracy.
But, given what they've seen in the first two weeks from Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler and what is expected the rest of the way, Sunday should be pretty typical in terms of how long Hoyer will hold onto the ball before he cuts it loose.
"That's one thing they told us is that he gets the ball out of his hand really fast," Cook said. "Most quarterbacks try to get the ball out fast because of our defense. In the first two weeks, Stafford and Cutler weren't holding the ball very long because they didn't want our D-line to be able to get their pass rush to them. I expect the same Sunday and throughout the season."
If there is ever a week in which the Vikings are going to depend on the tendencies of a team, it will be Sunday against the Browns. They don't have their anticipated starting quarterback and traded away their franchise running back in unrelated announcements made within 10 hours of one another. As the Vikings tear up their initial game plan, Plan B becomes a basic breakdown of the Cleveland offense and a playbook that will likely be cut in half. It will be a matter of "doing what we do" – both in preparation and execution.
"You can't really change what you're doing when you see a team take two big hits like that," Cook said. "Losing their starting running back and their starting quarterback, it tells us they're going to go with their scheme and do the fundamental things that they do. The way they run things doesn't change because you lose a guy. The guy who takes his place may have a different skill set, but the scheme probably isn't going to change."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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