Two of the most popular players to grace the Cleveland Browns' roster since reinstatement never played a down for the team. Both Chris Spielman and LeCharles Bentley were fan favorites upon acquisition because of their Pro Bowl pedigree before coming to Cleveland plus their hometown roots.
Unfortunately, neither had the opportunity to grace the gridiron officially wearing the seal brown and orange; but their words about the team can still provide insight. One was kind enough to spend a few minutes with the Orange and Brown Report while hustling as a new found journalist.
Bentley was a second round selection by the New Orleans Saints in 2002 and quickly rose to prominence. The St. Ignatius product became a Pro Bowler as a guard during his second year in the National Football League. He was named as a Pro Bowl alternate in 2004 after moving back to the center position. In 2005, he was named a Pro Bowler for the third straight season. It was with great anticipation Browns fans clamored when the team inked Bentley to a 6-year 36 million dollar contract to come home while potentially anchoring Cleveland's offensive line for the following decade. Fate had other intentions.
The story is well-known today, but I can remember driving in North Canton hearing the news blurt through the radio, "LeCharles Bentley suffered a serious knee injury today in non-contact drills". It became public knowledge later that the injury was a tore patella tendon. Then the two words which became infamous in Cleveland were uttered and a reality for Bentley, he had a staph infection. It nearly cost him his leg. Bad blood ensued between team and player. Bentley's career was over.
Despite the issues, the former professional football player did not hold ill-will towards coming back to the city. He remains there today. He has established a highly credible Offensive Line Academy to train young trenchmen. He is also a co-host for the X's and O's from the Pro's program on WKNR2. Obviously, Bentley is never afraid to voice his opinion on the team for which he yearned to be a part of when given (and lost) the opportunity. Thus, the backdrop is set.
On Jan. 13, the Browns once again pointed its rudder in a different direction. Pat Shurmur was named the team's 13th full-time head coach in the team's history. Shurmur's ties to President Mike Holmgren and General Manager Tom Heckert are well documented. Finally, the team appears to be on the same page. At least that is the spin being placed on the team's latest acquisition.
"I'm not quite clear yet on him (Shurmur), as far as they should be," Bentley bluntly stated. "We still don't know for sure what he is going to be. If you look at his history, it isn't too stellar, but you have to get along with the situation now with Mike Holmgren. Then you just trust in the fact that he knows what he is doing."
As a result of the hire, the conversation surrounding the eventual implementation of the west coast offense has been the hottest topic regarding Cleveland, particularly after Green Bay's recent Super Bowl victory. The initial concept will not be the one seen gracing Cleveland Browns Stadium this fall (if a labor settlement is reached).
"The west coast offense has transformed itself into what you are seeing take place down in New Orleans and Tampa Bay," Bentley described. "The offense now is different from Bill Walsh originally, when it was all about layers. You took your offense and you had your run schemes, your passing schemes, and each particular scheme had its own set of rules and regulations. It was very complicated.
"What you are seeing now from these new cutting-edge coaches coming into the game and add their own flavor to it and take it to a whole new level. West coast now has so many different layers and variables within the game and has completely changed. It's going to continue to change and become much more diverse. Almost to the point where it's being called more of a spread."
As the discussion revolved around the offense, it naturally transitioned into the team's potential triggerman. Colt McCoy's production as a rookie has, seemingly, earned him every opportunity to become the team's starting quarterback.
"I believe he has earned the opportunity to show if he is the guy or not," said Bentley. "That's one thing folks in Cleveland have not been able to say for a very long time."
As a former high level pivot, Bentley was eager to discuss the two potential stalwarts on the Browns' current roster. All Pro Joe Thomas received immediate attention.
"Joe has a level of consistency to his game that is very difficult to duplicate," he discussed. "This year was a bit of a rough patch for him. He got a little bit out of form, but, obviously, he still garnered some high accolades deservedly so.
"The one thing about Joe Thomas is that it's not his size or tangibles. He works his craft. And when you work your craft as an olineman, you have no choice but to get better."
Last year's first round pick, Alex Mack, was the second Browns offensive lineman to travel to Hawaii this year and participate in the Pro Bowl.
"It was a big year for him, being his second year," Bentley finished. "Usually in your second year as an offensive lineman, you kind of settle into a groove. That is starting for him. He's started quite a few games thus far, and he's starting to get in that groove. I expect him to continue getting better.
"He has brought a level of consistency, once again, to that position which the Browns have not had for a very long time. If you play offensive line, and you can just be consistent with what you are doing, then you can separate yourself from everybody else. It's a game with a lot of ebbs and flows to it. But the one thing you always want to rely on especially as a coaching staff, you want to rely on the big guys up front."