October 21, 2014

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Can it get any crazier? Browns glad to put focus back on playing after wild week

MINNEAPOLIS — The week started in Baltimore with a loss and a lost quarterback. The turmoil was only beginning.

By 1 a.m. Monday, receiver Greg Little was being cited for three traffic violations, including driving with a suspended license. His car was towed.

A few hour later, injured right guard Shawn Lauvao drove onto a closed highway ramp and got his car stuck. He needed a tow.
Two games, two losses, two tows. The real craziness was yet to come.

Wednesday’s always a busy day in the NFL, as the practice week kicks off. This was no ordinary busy Wednesday.

Around 9 a.m., first-year coach Rob Chudzinski, already in need of a good night’s sleep, announced he would start No. 3 quarterback Brian Hoyer, leapfrogging him past veteran Jason Campbell.

Brandon Weeden was ruled out for today’s game against the Vikings with a sprained right thumb, but doesn’t need surgery and might be able to go next week.

The catch: Chudzinski won’t commit to giving him his starting job back.

The feel-good story of Hoyer, a North Olmsted native and St. Ignatius graduate, making his first start for his hometown team lasted about nine hours.
News breaks on phones these days, and that’s how many paying customers found out. Running back Trent Richardson had been traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick in the 2014 draft.

Four hours earlier, he was practicing in Berea. Seventeen months prior, he was the No. 3 pick, the face of the franchise and the hope for a better future.

“Trent’s one of the most competitive people I know,” safety T.J. Ward said. “He wanted to make this team great like everyone else on this team — me, Joe (Haden), Trent, the last few years of draft picks, we wanted to make this team a winner.

“He’s going to go and do great things with the Colts and whoever else he’s with and we’re going to stay here and do great things with this team.”

The trade was the story of the week in the NFL. The Browns probably won’t receive such attention again until the draft in May — unless you include possibly playing the Jaguars for the No. 1 pick on Dec. 1.

CEO Joe Banner, who initiated and consummated the trade, acknowledges his desire to accrue draft picks. He maintains the organization is trying to win this season.

“I’m a competitive guy,” Banner said. “We’ll have the same goals and play to win every week.”

It’s a hard sell to many fans who bought season tickets or invested in Richardson. The 0-2 start had them disgusted, and the trade pushed some over the edge. With 14 games left, they don’t believe the organization cares about winning this season.

Chudzinski can’t be lumped into that group. He’s feverishly chasing his first victory and realizes the longer it takes, the tougher it gets.

“You need to get that first one before you get more,” he said. “Sometimes all it takes is a few plays to get that going. That’s where we’re at. We talked about that at the beginning of the week, ‘Just a little bit more.’”

The quarterback decision was tough enough for a rookie coach in Week 3. The trade of an offensive cornerstone and the demotion of Little from starter made this a week Chudzinski will never forget.

“Well, it’s about the focus,” he said of handling the week. “It’s about what’s important. It’s about what our goals are and what we want to do. That focus being on this game, the Minnesota game.

“I’ve really been impressed with our guys and how vehemently they’ve been working and focusing on going and winning the game.”

Yet to be seen is how the team responds on game day after the earth shifted under its feet. The young guys have to prove themselves and the veteran leadership is strong, so effort shouldn’t be a problem.

It won’t be for Hoyer. He’s making only his second career start and has his first opportunity to prove he’s more than a career backup. General manager Michael Lombardi wants to see what he can do as a starter, and Chudzinski left the door open for the audition to be more than a spot start.

“When you dream of playing in the professional leagues, you dream of playing for your hometown team,” Hoyer said. “Obviously that will be something special, but really now it gets down to the business side of it, of preparing.

“I don’t think that will hit me. When all is said and done, I’ll kind of look back and think about it that way, but right now I’m just focused on doing what I can do to prepare and beat Minnesota.”

The road from North Olmsted to Browns starter wasn’t direct. Hoyer was undrafted out of Michigan State, spent three years as Tom Brady’s backup, then was cut by New England, Pittsburgh and Arizona in the span of nine months. His lone start was in the 2012 finale for the Cardinals against San Francisco.

“I know myself and that’s the thing that’s most important to me, what I can take from what I’ve learned over the years from a guy like Tom (Brady), Bill O’Brien, obviously, Norv, Chud, these guys here,” he said. “I just kind of apply it to the offense and I’m not going to change who I am, I’m just going to be myself and that will be enough.”

The running backs are also a great unknown. Veteran Willis McGahee has 8,097 career yards, but wasn’t signed until Thursday and only practiced Friday. He, fullback Chris Ogbonnaya and youngster Bobby Rainey will split time.

The Vikings have no such question mark.

Adrian Peterson is already an all-time great in his seventh season and coming off a year in which he rushed for 2,097 yards. The last time the Browns saw him he was throwing cornerback Eric Wright into the bench on his way to 180 yards and three touchdowns in 2009.

“I’ve seen that. Definitely,” Ward said of Peterson’s dismissal of Wright. “I feel he’s the best back in the league.”

The attention shifts to the field today. Nothing that happens will be as unexpected as the events of the last seven days.

Even a Browns win wouldn’t qualify.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.

TODAY

WHO: Cleveland vs. Minnesota
TIME: 1 p.m.
WHERE: Mall of America Field, Minneapolis
TV/RADIO: Channel 19; WKNR 850-AM, WKRK 92.3-FM, WNCX 98.5-FM