The Browns' offensive line, one of the worst in the NFL for years, has the potential to be one of the best in the league this season if LeCharles Bentley can accomplish his goal of making a comeback from a severe patellar tendon injury.
Since February, Bentley had kept the Browns in the dark on his plans for 2007; he might undergo another operation, or he might play on the left patellar tendon torn on the first play of training camp last summer. On a day when most people were planning Fourth of July picnics, Bentley called coach Romeo Crennel to say he will be in uniform and ready to go when the Browns open camp July 27. Bentley said Crennel was 'shocked.'
"It's unbelievable how far I've come in the last few months," Bentley told the Associated Press in a phone interview from Arizona, where he has been training the past few months. "I feel so blessed to even be in a position to think about playing again. I've come so far. I'm not going to stop now."
Bentley said he has undergone four operations since being injured. The last two were to clean out a staph infection that was so serious doctors considered amputating his left leg.
Dr. Russell Warren, the Giants' team physician, performed the last surgery and told Bentley another one might be needed in early June. Warren decided not to do a fifth operation.
Bentley still has to pass his physical with the Browns before he can participate in training camp. But if he does get the go-ahead and plays without further injury, the Browns' offensive line will have been transformed overnight by football standards.
The 2007 offseason began with the signing of guard Eric Steinbach in free agency. The Browns used the third overall pick in the draft on left tackle Joe Thomas. Bentley was the Browns' top free agent signing last year after inking a six-year, $36 million contract to anchor the line at center, but never got the chance to play for his hometown team. Also, right tackle Ryan Tucker is back, fresh and ready to play after missing the last five games of 2006 with a mental disorder.
"I'm sure people still don't know if I'll be back, and it's still probably going to be a little wait and see," Bentley said. "But if I play one more snap, that's one more snap than a lot of people ever thought I'd play. People are quick to want to kill a dream. But a lot of work and a lot of prayers later, I'm ready to play again. I've been blessed."
--Toward the end of minicamp Coach Romeo Crennel announced Derek Anderson was throwing the ball better than any other quarterback the Browns have. The declaration does not mean Anderson is the starter, but it acknowledges he is in the mix. That alone is enough to make Anderson smile.
It is easy to push Anderson aside as 'the other quarterback' after Charlie Frye, the incumbent, and Brady Quinn, the ballyhooed rookie from Notre Dame taken with the 22nd overall pick in the draft. Dismissing Anderson as just a training camp arm would also be a mistake.
Anderson finished the game against Kansas City last season when Frye suffered a wrist injury. The Browns won in overtime on the strength of an improbable 33-yard run by Anderson. It was the Browns longest run from scrimmage all season. Anderson started the next three games, and although the Browns lost them all, Anderson did enough to be part of the quarterback competition in training camp.
"I'd say my chances of starting are good," Anderson said at the conclusion of minicamp. "That's just my sense. I think they're going to give us an equal opportunity. Whoever performs well and moves the team the best is going to be that guy."
The quarterback running offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's scheme will have to make quick decisions and hit the receiver on timing routes. Both are strengths of Anderson.
The biggest negatives for Anderson in his brief time last year was he threw seven interceptions and, his long run notwithstanding, was not as mobile as he would like to be. He worked on agility drills in the offseason to avoid the pass rush better. If he is the starter it would follow that he would get more practice time, and that should cut down on the interceptions.
"With my limited mobility, throwing on time is obviously part of my thing," Anderson said. "Making those timing throws and getting the ball out on time helps the whole system. I think I do a pretty good job of that most of the time, and I'll keep working on it."
Anderson is in his third season with the Browns. The Ravens drafted him in the sixth round in 2005 and waived him Sept. 20 of his rookie year with the intent of putting him on their practice squad. The Browns claimed him on waivers.
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