CLEVELAND - Trent Richardson said goodbye to the Browns when he boarded a private jet and headed for Indianapolis last Wednesday after being traded to the Colts.
Is Brandon Weeden far behind?
Weeden started at quarterback in 17 of his first 18 games with the Browns. He will miss his second game today against the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field because of a sprained right thumb.
That doesn't seem like a big problem for Weeden, especially since a trip to a hand specialist Thursday revealed no major damage and the opportunity to perhaps return next week. It could be a big thing, however, if coach Rob Chudzinski and members of the front office decide to stick with Brian Hoyer, Weeden's replacement.
Chudzinski wouldn't commit to Weeden as the starter when he returns. The decision is due partially to the possibility that Hoyer might play well, and it also could be tied to an organizational belief that Weeden isn't their guy moving forward.
"As soon as he's cleared we'll have to evaluate what status he is," Chudzinski said after Friday's practice. "Whether he's 100 or 80 or 90 percent, we'll play by ear as it goes."
That sounds very much like a coach that has decided Weeden's fate, and it isn't with the Browns. That would obliterate the first round of the 2012 draft in which then Browns general manager Tom Heckert selected Richardson third overall (with a trade up of one spot) and Weeden 22nd overall.
It all doesn't mean much to Hoyer, who will live out a dream today when he starts for his hometown team (he's a North Olmsted native and a graduate of St. Ignatius High School). It will be Hoyer's second career start. He started in a late-season game in 2012 for the Arizona Cardinals against the San Francisco 49ers, completing 19-of-34 passes for 225 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The offense can't perform much worse with Hoyer at quarterback. In losses to the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens, Weeden completed 54.7 percent of his passes for 516 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
"I don't know what I bring differently," Hoyer said. "I know I have to be myself. That's the thing that's most important to me. I can take what I've learned over the years from guys like Tom (Brady) Bill O'Brien, Chud (Chudzinski) and obviously Norv (Turner) and apply it to the offense. I'm not going to change who I am. I'm going to be myself, and I think that will be enough."
Hoyer backed up Brady for three years in New England, where he tutored under O'Brien, the former Patriots offensive coordinator and current Penn State coach. He's now learning under Turner, the Browns first-year offensive coordinator.
Watching Brady perform at such a high level doesn't mean Hoyer will come close to performing at the same level, but it might help in small ways.
"It's kind of a mindset I gained by being there," Hoyer said. "Having a sense of urgency, attention to detail. The little things help you take care of the big things. Whether it's preparation, studying, things like that, there's probably not a better guy to learn from. I went in every day trying to take as much as I could out of that situation."
Hoyer will be joined in the backfield by another new face running back Willis McGahee. The nine-year NFL veteran was signed Thursday to replace Richardson. He was with the Denver Broncos last season, rushing for 731 yards before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
McGahee has rushed for a career 8,097 yards and 63 touchdowns. Chudzinski anticipates playing McGahee today despite his limited amount of practice time.
"The terminology, he's familiar with when he was in Baltimore," Chudzinski said. "So a lot of those things are the same. Just doing a little review with him, he's got a good handle on the offense overall."
The game will also mark the season debut of receiver Josh Gordon, who served a two-game suspension for a violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
"It was apparent that he worked the two weeks he was out," Chudzinski said. "He came and conditioned, caught the ball very well and it was good having him back out there."