BEREA, Ohio -- Stretched out on a flatbed cart,
LeCharles Bentley covered his face with a towel to hide his disappointment
This wasn't the homecoming he had planned.
His first season with the Cleveland Browns ended before it
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
"He probably wanted to play for the Cleveland Browns as much as
anyone we have," Savage said. "We feel real bad for him."