Veteran returns to lineup

Updated: October 16, 2004, 5:26 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Struggling to find offensive rhythm, the Cincinnati Bengals should get some relief for Sunday's key game against the division-rival Cleveland Browns, as starting center Rich Braham is set to play for the first time since the regular-season opener.

Braham missed the last three games after arthroscopic knee surgery and ensuing complications. The 11-year veteran participated in all of this week's practices and reclaimed his starting spot Friday.

The return of Braham means the Bengals will have their projected starting lineup from training camp on the field together for the first time this season. Second-year left guard Eric Steinbach had missed the opener with an elbow problem.

"It's good to have everyone back together," right tackle Willie Anderson said. "We've got experience working together from the past, and we're going to need that to get pointed back in the right direction. There's just something good about getting your line in order and being able to keep the same guys out there."

In addition to Braham, Steinbach and Anderson, the other starters are left tackle Levi Jones and right guard Bobbie Williams.

Cincinnati is 1-3 behind first-year starting quarterback Carson Palmer, and the offense ranks 21st in the league. The Bengals have averaged 16.5 points per game, better than just six teams. The hope is that, with the offensive line finally settled, Palmer, the first player chosen in the 2003 draft, will settle down as well.

Sixteen-year veteran center Jerry Fontenot, signed after the injury to Braham, has started the past three games and played well. But Braham, with 116 regular-season starts, knows the nuances of the Cincinnati offense a little better, adds stability to the unit and is considered a better pass blocker than Fontenot.

"He brings a familiarity and knowledge of the way things have been coached here since Bob Bratkowski took over as [offensive] coordinator," coach Marvin Lewis said.

If there is any positive to what transpired on the Cincinnati offensive line in the first one-fourth of the season it is that the injuries, in the long run, might have improved the unit's depth. The Braham injury forced the team to acquire Fontenot, and versatile interior lineman Larry Moore, signed just before the start of the season, also got playing time.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.