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NFL Team Report - Cleveland Browns - INSIDE SLANT
The Browns are hopeful wide receiver Josh Gordon's return from a two-game suspension will spark an offense that has scored only one touchdown in the first two games.
Gordon led the Browns in yards receiving (805) and touchdown catches (five) in 2012. He caught more than a third of the 14 touchdown passes Brandon Weeden threw last season.
"I definitely think I can put my talent out there for the best use of the team," Gordon said. "Hopefully we can go a long way with it. I don't want to make it seem like it's just about me or anything like that.
"We've got a great offense. We've got a bunch of great guys. I just want to be an extra piece of the puzzle to help us put it all together."
Brian Hoyer will start at quarterback in place of injured Brandon Weeden. He does not have Weeden's arm strength, which could minimize the effect of Gordon's return.
Nevertheless, Gordon would immediately become the Browns' No. 1 receiver again and take attention away from third-year player Greg Little, a second-round draft choice from North Carolina.
Little dropped 12 passes as a rookie in 2011 and he's dropping passes again this year (four already) at an alarming rate. He dropped only six last year when opponents had to worry about Gordon.
Little has been demoted from his starting role, coach Rob Chudzinski announced Wednesday, but will play in a substitute role against the Vikings.
Gordon attended team meetings during his suspension but was not allowed to practice. He watched games on television and said he envisioned himself on the field. He said not playing was very difficult.
"Just being taken away from it is a humbling experience for me," Gordon said. "I found an appreciation for the game. The absence of it makes the heart grow fonder in a sense. That's really what it's about for me right now."
Gordon acknowledged if he violates the league's substance abuse policy one more time he will face a season-long suspension. The NFL did not detail his recent violation, but Gordon said he took doctor-prescribed cough syrup with the banned substance codeine in it in February when he had strep throat.
"I feel like it's a last chance opportunity for me in the league," Gordon said. "Nobody wants a problematic type of person in their program or their organization because of how they're perceived to be. So I definitely want to stay away from controversy as long as I can, forever. That's definitely my goal."
Gordon tested positive for marijuana three times in college - twice at Baylor and once at Utah. He did not play college football in 2011 because Baylor kicked him off the team. He transferred to Utah and then decided to enter the 2012 supplemental draft.
Former general manager Tom Heckert knew Gordon could be a high-risk, high-reward pick - the Browns used a 2013 second-round pick to take him last summer - but after talking to those who know Gordon, Heckert became convinced Gordon could stay clean. Just in case, though, Heckert and former team president Mike Holmgren kept a close eye on Gordon. Now that support is gone.
"Nobody should be a caretaker for me at this point in my life," Gordon said. "I should be seen as a grown man and have the responsibility for the actions I'm taking. I have to look at it as I can't really just expect to have somebody there for me always being in my ear and to tell me this and that. You just have to know right from wrong."
Last month, two months after the league announced he would be suspended for the first two games, Gordon was ticketed for driving 98 mph in a 60 mph zone.
NFL Team Report - Cleveland Browns - NOTES, QUOTES
--Brian Hoyer will start at quarterback for the Browns against the Vikings Sunday because an injured right thumb is preventing Brandon Weeden from playing.
When Weeden is healthy again there is no guarantee he will get his job back. He is 5-12 as a starter over two seasons and he turns 30 next month.
"We'll evaluate where Brandon is and everything else week to week," coach Rob Chudzinski said. "I'm going to leave all of the options open. It's a matter of where he's at from a health standpoint - all of that plays into it - where we're at and how guys are playing, as well."
Chudzinski chose Hoyer over nine-year veteran Jason Campbell. Campbell has 71 NFL starts. Hoyer has one.
"From a game-plan standpoint, I don't want to get into too much detail of that," Chudzinski said. "Where we're at offensively now, the things that he does well fits what we need."
Hoyer went to St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, but he said all he is thinking about is what he can do against the Vikings.
"It's funny," Hoyer said, "You get told that news and that's all you think about, preparing and even last night before I went to bed, I was thinking about the game plan and what we can do to attack them and what they do to present us some challenges. Your mind is constantly thinking about it."
Hoyer was the only Browns quarterback to play in the final preseason game. He completed 24 of 35 passes for 307 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions against the Bears. He had an 81.5 passer rating.
--History is not on the side of the Browns. Not only have the Browns beaten the Vikings only three times; they've won only once in Minnesota. That event occurred on Oct. 26, 1986 when the Browns won, 23-20, after trailing 17-3 at halftime.
The Browns scored 10 points in the final four minutes. Curtis Dickey scored on a 17-yard run with 3:23 left and Matt Bahr broke a 20-20 tie on a 22-yard field goal with 1:46 to play.
--The Browns held the Dolphins to 20 yards rushing in the opener and the Ravens to an average of 2.8 yards a carry (99 yards total) last week.
The run defense will of course be tested Sunday when it goes up against Adrian Peterson. Four years ago Peterson rushed for 180 yards and three touchdowns when the Vikings won, 34-20, in Cleveland.
--Now that Josh Gordon is back from a two-game suspension the Browns can employ Travis Benjamin as the kick returner. Benjamin was one of only four experienced wide receivers on the active roster in the first two games. He doubled as a punt returner. Last year he returned three kicks for 79 yards.
--Browns owner Jimmy Haslam ranks 369th among the richest Americans with a net worth of $1.45 billion, according to Forbes.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1-11 - The Browns combined record after two games over the last six seasons.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There is some improvement and some signs that we're going in the right direction. We just need to get better and keep grinding." - Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski on the offensive line.
NFL Team Report - Cleveland Browns - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--LB D'Qwell Jackson has been on the field for all 142 defensive snaps.
--WR Davone Bess will start in place of Greg Little. Little is healthy but was demoted Wednesday after dropping four passes in the first two games.
--DE Desmond Bryant has at least a half sack in six straight games going back to the final four games of 2012 when he was with the Raiders.
--QB Brandon Weeden is out for the game against the Vikings on Sunday. A hand specialist will examine his sprained right thumb on Thursday.
--DE Ahtyba Rubin was involved in individual drills Thursday. He missed the last two games with a calf injury.
--G Shawn Lauvao was limited with an ankle injury. It was the first time he was able to practice since undergoing ankle surgery on Aug. 10.
--LB Quentin Groves is out with a sprained ankle suffered in the game against the Ravens.
GAME PLAN: The Browns want to throw deep now that Josh Gordon is playing again. He is deceptively fast and can stretch the field. He averaged 16.1 yards a catch last year and scored five receiving touchdowns.
Having Gordon as a deep threat should also help open room for running back Trent Richardson. Without Gordon to worry about the Dolphins and Ravens put an extra defender in the box.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns LT Joe Thomas vs. Vikings RDE Jared Allen -- Allen uncharacteristically has only one sack and four quarterback hits after two games this season. Thomas and Allen met in 2009 and Thomas kept him off quarterback Brady Quinn. Quinn was sacked five times but none belonged to Allen.
Browns LB Jabaal Sheard vs. Vikings RB Adrian Peterson -- Sheard has made a seamless transition from left end to right outside linebacker, but he has never attempted to tackle a runner as skilled as Peterson. How this matchup unfolds could determine which team wins.