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Hallen leaves Browns with personal, medical issues

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns are losing centers at an
alarming rate.

Bob Hallen, thrust into the starting lineup when LeCharles Bentley sustained a season-ending knee injury on one of the first
11-on-11 drills early in training camp, has left the club for
personal and medical reasons.

"I think they are both serious," coach Romeo Crennel said.
"Back injuries are always serious and personal issues make the two
equal."

Hallen, who like Bentley is from the Cleveland area, signed with
the club in March after spending four seasons with San Diego. He
didn't practice Monday, when Crennel said the nine-year veteran had
come down with a "back issue."

Crennel did not reveal the nature of Hallen's injury or his
personal situation and said it's possible the 31-year-old may
retire.

"Bob is dealing with medical and personal issues that he is
going to have to work out and get taken care of," Crennel said.
"Such to the point where I will investigate the avenues available
to me."

Shortly after practice Tuesday at training camp in suburban
Berea, near Cleveland, the Browns placed Hallen on the exempt/left
squad list. To get help at center, the club also traded a
conditional pick in next year's draft to the New England Patriots
for center Ross Tucker.

The loss of Hallen is another significant blow to the Browns,
who open the exhibition season Thursday in Philadelphia. Bentley,
the jewel of the club's free agent signing class, was expected to
anchor an improved line and protect second-year quarterback Charlie
Frye.

Now, with a month left before the season opener, Crennel has
little depth or quality at center.

"I think we know that the center situation is critical,"
Crennel said. "Two guys who are starters are not here."

Alonzo Ephraim, signed by the club July 30 after Bentley got
hurt, is expected to start against the Eagles.

"We'll get a chance to find out if he can play or not,"
Crennel said. "He does have some NFL experience. He was a free
agent coming out of Alabama. There were some redeeming qualities
that people liked. He has a big body and I think we'll find out
exactly where he stands."

Hallen, who was drafted by Atlanta in 1998, started 47 of 86
career games with the Chargers and Falcons. Crennel noted that
Hallen had back "issues" with San Diego but that he had no
problems with Hallen's attitude, calling him "a good kid."

Crennel said Hallen could face a fine for leaving the squad but
would be welcomed if he decides to come back.

"You have to be open-minded about everything," Crennel said.
"You are talking about a starting center. If he's better than what
you have on the team, you have to consider that."

Tucker, who can also play both guard positions, has made 24
career starts, 12 of them in 2004 for the Buffalo Bills. He has
also played for Washington and Dallas. He appeared in one game for
the Patriots in 2005.