There are still 11 days before Cleveland Browns officials have to decide how to proceed with center LeCharles Bentley. But even with the clock ticking toward a decision, general manager Phil Savage indicated to local reporters this week that the team will likely use all the time available before determining the next step for their standout lineman.
Bentley remains on the league's physically unable to perform list (PUP) but must resume practicing by Nov. 6 if he is to return to the playing field this season for the first time since December 2005.
"I think at this point, it remains to be seen whether he is going to be cleared to practice or not," Savage said. "What I've said all the way through, [is that] we want to maximize the chance for LeCharles to have a successful return. If that means using up every minute, all the way up until the last minute, it might be."
By rule, players on the physically unable to perform list must return to practice by Nov. 6 or sit out the entire season. If Bentley begins practicing by the deadline, Cleveland officials would then have a three-week window in which to evaluate his progress. At any time in those three weeks, Bentley could be elevated to the active 53-man roster. If he was not, he would sit out the rest of the year.
A two-time Pro Bowl performer, Bentley hasn't participated in a full-scale practice for the Browns since tearing the patella tendon of his left knee in the team's first "live" training camp practice of 2006. After surgery to repair the patella tendon, Bentley developed a staph infection in the knee. In all, he has undergone four surgeries on the knee, and his condition was so dire at one point that doctors considering amputating his leg.
Bentley, 27, had to make remarkable progress just to get to the point in his recovery where he was able to do some individual drills during training camp this summer. The former New Orleans Saints star was signed by the Browns as an unrestricted free agent in the spring of 2006, and received a six-year, $36 million with $12.5 million in guarantees.
This spring, Bentley was cleared to practice by Dr. Russell Warren, the New York Giants' team physician who performed two of the surgeries on him. But when Bentley reported to training camp, Cleveland doctors performed an MRI exam and determined that he needed more time to rehabilitate. By his own admission, Bentley's knee at that point was about 70 percent recovered, and he acknowledged he wasn't yet ready to return.
Landing the highly regarded Bentley, who made one Pro Bowl appearance as a guard and another at center, was a huge acquisition at the time for the Browns, who wanted more bulk and power on the interior of their offensive line. Bentley was to have played center in Cleveland, his hometown.
Bentley was the Saints' second-round pick in the 2002 draft. The former Ohio State star began his career at guard and then moved to center in 2004. In four seasons with the Saints, he played in 57 games, all as a starter. He has yet to play a snap for the Browns.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.