Changes in Cleveland force Vikings to prepare for unknown
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The late news Wednesday that the Cleveland Browns had traded running back Trent Richardson shocked the Minnesota Vikings and sent coaches scrambling to diagnose the players who might fill in for Cleveland's biggest offensive threat.
Minnesota is facing a Browns team without starting quarterback Brandon Weeden and will be starting third-stringer Brian Hoyer. No backs on the roster have a carry this season. Cleveland is depleted offensively heading into Sunday's game at the Metrodome.
The natural reaction, as many fans felt after hearing the news, is Minnesota is looking good to earn its first win of the season on Sunday. But the Vikings aren't worried about complacency in the wake of the Browns' moves.
"I know our guys are mature enough and professional enough to not fall in the trap that maybe my boys at home think, that it's looking at fantasy football think that, 'Oh, Dad. You got em,'" defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "No. Our guys are brighter and smarter than that."
But there was still the initial surprise to get over.
"I was shocked," defensive end Jared Allen said. "I'm not going to say I didn't smile about it. But I was shocked, honestly. This league is crazy. I think we all learned once Peyton (Manning) left the Colts, no one's safe anywhere. I don't have to deal with it. So, I was shocked."
Minnesota had already started to adjust after hearing earlier in the day Hoyer would start for Weeden, out with a sprained right thumb. The Vikings had been planning for Jason Campbell, who replaced Weeden during last week's game. Coach Leslie Frazier said switching gears to prepare for Hoyer on Wednesday was better than finding out Sunday.
A few hours later, the bombshell dropped with Richardson being traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick.
"That was a little different," Frazier said of Wednesday's news. "We were watching tape and that was definitely one of the guys we were preparing to have to defend from a defensive standpoint and all of a sudden he's not there, so you've got to be ready to adjust and look at it as if a guy got injured on the first play of the game."
Cleveland only had two other running backs on the active roster, fullback Chris Ogbannaya and returner Bobby Rainey.
Scrambling, the Vikings even went to look at tape of Willis McGahee because reports said McGahee would be visiting Cleveland and taking a physical. Reports indicated McGahee would be signed if he passed the physical. Minnesota didn't waste any time and went to look at tape of the former Denver Broncos running back.
"Once they told us that he was going to be the guy to replace him, just to take a look and see what he did last year," Frazier said. "You look at the system, but we'll go back and look at a little bit about what he did in Denver. We're somewhat familiar with him. But you still need to go back and look at what he did last season and get a feel for him. You still got to look at the system, but it could change a little bit."
The Vikings' preparation wasn't wasted. McGahee signed with the Browns on Thursday.
Williams said that Minnesota has to look more at the Browns' scheme than the personnel because of the changes. Cleveland's offense is led by coordinator Norv Turner and coach Rob Chudzinski has an offensive background.
"I don't think there's a desperation sense at Week 3 of the season, but I do know that they'll still follow the scheme of the offensive coordinator, of Norv Turner," Williams said. "He has a scheme and he's just going to fit the pieces in there and they still have good players. They have good receivers. The quarterback performed well last year when he was in a starting role. He gets the ball out quickly. He's poised in the pocket. The scheme is still what we have to defend."
The Vikings defensive players have no choice but to prepare for the Browns' scheme. They weren't even sure who they might be facing.
"I've been trying to watch preseason tape of the quarterback and now I'm trying to throw darts at a board and see who the running back is going to be," Allen said. "If it's going to be McGahee, at least we can go back and watch some film on him. It is tough. It makes it tough to prepare. I think one thing coach has been adamant about, it doesn't change the scheme. It doesn't change the plays they're going to run. It doesn't change how they're going to block them up front and it doesn't change the fact that they're an effective running football team."
Allen used last season's game against the Arizona Cardinals for an example. With injuries hitting the backfield, Arizona started LaRod Stephens-Howling at running back and he ran 20 times for 104 yards with a touchdown, and added four catches for 45 yards.
"People hear Trent go and you hear all the talk about them kicking it in for the season, that's not the case," Allen said. "This is a humbling league and if you don't take every opponent serious. . . . This is how this league stays successful because guys get an opportunity to shine and we just got to make sure no one shines on us."
Sendejo signs extension: Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo, a key special teams player, agreed to terms on an extension with the team Thursday. Sendejo's agent, Erik Burkhardt, tweeted the news Thursday afternoon.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Sendejo's extension is for two years and is worth $2 million, with $400,000 guaranteed and $600,000 in incentives.
Sendejo, 26, had six tackles last season for Minnesota, playing mostly special teams. He's in his third year with the Vikings after signing as a free agent during the 2011 season when he was released by the New York Jets.
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