Cleveland Browns first-year coach Pat Shurmur has handed his offense to second-year quarterback Colt McCoy. Cincinnati Bengals rookie signal-caller Andy Dalton is now leading the attack for Marvin Lewis' team.
With McCoy and Dalton under center for the season opener, this AFC North rivalry will be renewed Sunday in Cleveland.
Hired in January after Eric Mangini was fired following the Browns' second consecutive 5-11 season, Shurmur brought his West Coast offense to Cleveland.
However, with the lockout preventing coaches and players from contacting each other, McCoy learned some of the nuances of the offense during a trip to Hattiesburg, Miss., to see three-time MVP Brett Favre, who used the West Coast system in Green Bay while playing for Browns president Mike Holmgren.
"I had the playbook and I had some tape," McCoy said. "But you can go down and ask him, 'OK, vs. this, what call do you make here? And you see a pressure, what call can you make to adjust?' Those are the things that we talked about. Same things I would ask a coach. But now that I'm here, and with coaches every day, we're way past that.
"But during that time, Brett was very helpful."
After winning a Division I-record 45 games at Texas, McCoy started last season as the Browns' No. 3 quarterback. However, injuries to Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace allowed McCoy to start eight of the final 11 games.
McCoy completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 1,576 yards with six touchdowns and nine interceptions.
"He's picked up the offense really well and I think you'll see him gain as the season goes on," general manager Tom Heckert said.
Lewis is hoping Dalton, a second-round pick, can deliver for Cincinnati as he takes over for two-time Pro Bowler Carson Palmer, who decided to retire rather than play for the Bengals again after they finished 4-12 last season.
"There isn't a veteran quarterback on this team that has been here and been part of these guys," Lewis said. "They are all learning an offense that was different than the past. We are all starting from scratch."
Dalton led TCU to a record 42 wins over the last four years, but he had a rough introduction to the NFL, throwing three interceptions and posting a 30.9 passer rating in the first two preseason games. Dalton, though, went 11 of 17 for 130 yards and a score in a 24-13 win over Carolina on Aug. 25.
Jay Gruden takes over as Bengals offensive coordinator, and he'll be working with a new receiving corps with Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco gone. Fourth overall pick A.J. Green, Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell and Jordan Shipley have a combined 20 starts and 160 receptions.
"It's a new generation coming in," Caldwell said. "... Hopefully we can perform like they did."
The Bengals are expecting big things from Green as he continues to learn the terminology and routes.
"He's done what was advertised," Lewis said. "He's a big man with great speed and great body control. He can run every route, make every catch and make the quarterback look good on every play."
Browns return specialist Josh Cribbs should get more opportunities to do the same for McCoy.
"He's not going to be limited," Shurmur said. "Cribbs is a fantastic player and we're going to try and put him in position to make plays - however we can do it.
"There are some routes I think he runs very well. I think he's progressing as a receiver."
Another top target for McCoy should be rookie wide receiver Greg Little, the former North Carolina standout.
"He's got a big body and can catch the ball," Heckert said. "He's going to play."
So is Peyton Hillis, who had a breakout 2010 in his first season with Cleveland. He rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 TDs and caught 61 passes for 477 yards and two scores.
Cedric Benson, the Bengals' leading rusher each of the last three seasons, returns on a one-year deal.
"If there being a rookie quarterback causes them to rely upon me a lot more, then I'm excited," said Benson, who was released from a Texas jail last Saturday after serving five days for misdemeanor assault.
Benson rushed for a season-best 150 yards and a TD the last time these teams met, a 19-17 home win for the Bengals on Dec. 19.
The Browns avoided losing a third straight at home in this matchup with a 23-20 victory Oct. 3.