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Browns lose another center as Hallen retires

CLEVELAND -- Veteran offensive lineman Bob Hallen, who was
being counted on by the Cleveland Browns to replace the injured
LeCharles Bentley at center, informed the club Friday that he has
retired.

Hallen, who left the team earlier this week, sent a letter to
the Browns saying he was done with pro football due to a medical
situation and the best interest of his family.

"This is stunning to all of us because it was so abrupt,"
Browns general manager Phil Savage said.

Hallen's retirement couldn't come at a worse time for the
Browns, who lost Bentley, a two-time Pro Bowl selection and their
prized free agent signing, to a season-ending injury on the first
11-on-11 play of training camp.

Bentley was supposed to protect second-year quarterback
Charlie Frye, improve Cleveland's running game and anchor an offensive line
currently missing right tackle Ryan Tucker, who recently underwent
knee surgery.

"We're disappointed that Bob Hallen made this decision,"
Savage said. "But what is more disappointing is that he waited
until two days before the first [exhibition] game, especially after
LeCharles Bentley's injury."

The 31-year-old Hallen, who played the previous four seasons
with San Diego, left camp unexcused on Monday, citing back
problems. Coach Romeo Crennel said Hallen had "a back issue" and
was dealing with "personal problems."

"To keep from it being an embarrassing situation we basically
said he's being looked at, but our people never saw him again,"
Savage said.

Savage said Hallen's injury came as a surprise to the Browns and
that he never complained of back problems.

"He passed every medical check that we ever administered, every
physical," Savage said. "He rarely, if ever, spent any time in
our training room throughout his tenure here with the Browns."

Hallen's agent, Cliff Brady, told The Plain Dealer that Hallen
had to retire because he has a two herniated discs and is suffering
from stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column. Messages seeking
comment were left with Brady on Friday.

Hallen's biography in the club's media guide makes no mention of
any history of back problems. He was placed on San Diego's injured
list in 2003 because of a torn chest muscle. He also sustained a
concussion in 2002.

The Browns will recoup the $200,000 signing bonus they paid
Hallen when he signed in the offseason, Savage said.

In the meantime, with their Sept. 10 season opener against New
Orleans drawing near, the Browns may have to find a dependable
veteran center.

Alonzo Ephraim, signed after Bentley got hurt, started in
Thursday's 20-7 loss to Philadelphia. Ephraim has five career
starts, two at center, and played 43 games in three seasons with
the Eagles.

On Tuesday, the Browns traded a 2007 draft pick to New England
for center Ross Tucker, who has 24 career NFL starts.

Savage said they're going to take a look at Tucker in Friday's
exhibition game against Detroit. He also planned to call a dozen
teams with a surplus of center/guards.

There's irony in the Browns' mess at center. After signing
Bentley in March, the club traded Jeff Faine, a former first-round
draft pick and three-year starter, to New Orleans. Faine is listed
as the Saints' starter on their current depth chart, a spot he'll
likely have when the club opens in Cleveland next month.

Hallen, who is from Mentor, Ohio, and played at Kent State, made
47 career starts for Atlanta and the Chargers. He was drafted by
the Falcons in the second round (53rd overall) of the 1998 draft.
He signed with San Diego as a free agent in 2002.