Browns center Bentley out for season with torn tendon
BEREA, Ohio -- Stretched out on a flatbed cart, LeCharles Bentley covered his face with a towel to hide his disappointment and tears.
This wasn't the homecoming he had planned.
His first season with the Cleveland Browns ended before it began.
Bentley, a two-time Pro Bowl center and one of the team's prized free-agent signings this winter, sustained a season-ending injury to his left knee on the first 11-on-11 drill of training camp Thursday -- a crushing blow for a club seemingly cursed by major injuries the past few seasons.
"He was the face of our free-agent class," general manager Phil Savage said. "We feel terrible for LeCharles, but life goes on."
Savage said Bentley tore his patellar tendon and will undergo surgery as early as Friday. Savage declined to say if Bentley's tear was partial or complete and would not speculate on a timeframe for recovery.
Blocking for Reuben Droughns on an off-tackle running play to the right, Bentley, who played four years at New Orleans, was briefly engaged in a block up front with nose tackle Ted Washington when his left knee buckled.
Bentley screamed, "No!" and grabbed his knee as Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel and his staff blew their whistles to halt play. While on his knees, the 26-year-old Bentley punched the ground in disgust as the Browns moved their scrimmage up the field so the club's medical staff could attend to him.
|The Browns had the makings of a better-than-average offensive line. LeCharles Bentley would have been the leader and best player of the group by far -- not to mention the one making all the line calls and adjustments. The line looked fine on paper and had the makings of a solid group -- now there are serious concerns. Story|
Bentley's injury is the latest for a Browns team beset by serious medical setbacks -- No. 1 overall picks Courtney Brown and quarterback Tim Couch had several major injuries -- since the club returned to the league as an expansion team in 1999.
On Thursday, tight end Kellen Winslow had his first contact after missing the past two seasons with major leg injuries. The Browns are also without wide receiver Braylon Edwards, their first-round pick in 2005, who is expected to be out until Oct. 1 following knee surgery.
When Winslow was seriously hurt in a motorcycle accident before last season, Savage, who was beginning his first year in Cleveland, complained about Browns fans feeling as if their team was jinxed.
Despite Bentley's injury, he said the club has to push on.
"We have to stay above the talk of the negativity and stay above the talk of the Browns have done this or this has happened," he said. "We're going to have the mind-set and frame of mind going forward that we're going to get the job done. We're going to do some great things this season. Life goes on and I think our players realize that."
As Bentley lay on the ground, several of the Browns were reminded of the team's star-crossed history.
"Lee [Suggs] said, 'Another Browns injury,'" said Droughns, who slowed up on the play when he heard someone yell that a player was down.
Crennel and Savage said Bentley's teammates shouldn't let his injury affect the team's chances.
"We're still looking for a good year and I expect a good year. Nothing really has changed," Crennel said after the evening practice. "Any time you lose a Pro Bowl player, you're not quite as good. I told the team that everyone else has to pick up some slack, which I think we'll do."
The Browns signed Bentley to protect second-year quarterback Charlie Frye and help an offense that scored a league-low 232 points last season. After Bentley was signed, the Browns traded center Jeff Faine on draft day to the Saints.
Savage said the club will look to add a free-agent lineman in the next few days to back up Bob Hallen, who will move into Bentley's starting spot.
Crennel did his best to lighten the mood during an interview after practice, but losing Bentley is a devastating blow to the Browns.
For the morning workout, Crennel had his players only wearing shoulder pads, hoping that staying out of full pads on Day 2 of training camp would help them avoid injuries. Crennel said players are reminded to be careful.
"The first general rule is to stay off the ground and protect your teammates," he said. "Sometimes guys will give an extra push in competition. Sometimes they pull a guy down. We talked to them about not giving them that extra push and not pulling guys down."
Bentley took over as the Saints center in training camp two years ago. He started all 16 games in 2004 and was named a Pro Bowl alternate. Last year, he made 14 starts before missing the final two games with an elbow injury.
Bentley, who played at Cleveland's St. Ignatius High School and Ohio State, decided not to re-sign with the Saints for a chance to come home and play for the Browns. He signed a six-year, $36 million deal in March that included $12.5 million in guaranteed money.
At his introductory news conference in Cleveland, Bentley peeled off his sports coat to reveal a Browns No. 00 jersey. He petitioned the league to allow him to wear 00, but was turned down and chose 57.
"He probably wanted to play for the Cleveland Browns as much as anyone we have," Savage said. "We feel real bad for him."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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