The Star of the Show

Kentrell Curry was one of the top-rated safeties in all of college football until he got some bad news in August of last year. While his Georgia Bulldog teammate Sean Jones rose to become a heralded second-round pick, Curry has quietly slipped in under radar and still might become the NFL starter scouts predicted in before last Summer. Barry chronicles Kentrell's journey and talks to him about the misfortune of his highly-drafted teammate and the challenges ahead...

Timing, they say, is everything. For Kentrell Curry, the timing could not have been worse.

Curry was the star player in Georgia's defensive backfield. An All-SEC strong safety who could cover the field and come up against the run, Curry was called "the star of the show" by at least one college football journal and was regarded as one of the top safeties in the country.

Along with his teammate Sean Jones, the 22-year-old Senior from Toccoa, Georgia was expected to provide the Bulldogs with one of the best safety combos in recent college football memory.

When the Bulldogs came together last August to being practice for the upcoming season, though, Curry was bothered by pain in his right leg. On Friday of the team's first week back, his coaches became concerned enough about Curry's constant soreness that an X-Ray was requested.

The test revealed that Curry had a stress fracture in his leg, an injury which would sideline him at least six weeks.

He couldn't remember how it happened, or when it happened. While his teammates hadn't even yet put on the pads in practice,  Kentrell Curry was already in an air cast and was watching his dreams of a stellar final season vanish.

"This is hurting me personally," Curry said at the time, "I have no idea when it happened."

Six weeks. It must have seemed like an eternity to a player who had never before missed a game due to injury.

Based on that schedule, the best Curry could hope for was to miss games against Clemson, Middle Tennessee, and South Carolina. If things went well, though, he could be back in time to participate against Nick Saban's fast-rising LSU Tigers.

Although his head coach, Mark Richt, downplayed the potential for Curry to appear against LSU, the situation was dire. Georgia had battled through injuries to rise to #7 in the polls and was facing off in a huge match-up against the #11 Tigers at their loud, rough, home field. Curry's back-up, Greg Blue, was also out, himself dealing with a torn knee ligament.

Curry rejoined his team in practice before they went to LSU. "I feel pain every day," he told reporters then, "But I'm getting more comfortable with it. The pain is decreasing every day."

Despite his head coach's assertions prior to the game, Curry did appear against the Tigers.

He made it through just two series of downs.

The pain had not gone away in the six weeks of recovery, but it wasn't until after the loss to LSU that Curry and the Bulldog medical staff discovered that the safety had built up calcium deposits in his right knee. Surgery was required.

Kentrell Curry's college football career was over.

"It's been a very irritating, nagging, painful deal," coach Mark Richt said following the September game. "He's a guy who really wanted to have a great senior year and worked so hard in the spring. It's sad for him and it's sad for us."

*  *  *

Sean Jones was the starter at free safety in the Bulldog defensive scheme, while Curry was referred to as a "Roverback". While Curry could do no better than watch, his teammate's stock soared during his Senior year. By draft day, Jones was considered the second-best available safety, after Sean Taylor, according to many draft experts.

The Browns coaching staff was giddy with excitement when they traded up to nab Jones in the second round of the NFL draft. After giving up record-setting rushing yardage in 2003, the team was focused on improving their run defense, and the safety position had been given intense off-season scrutiny.

Sean Jones is expected to help provide an answer, and he will be compensated accordingly. Second-round picks get long-term contracts, and they get signing bonuses that allow them to buy ornate houses. With cash.

In a flash, however, the mood changed. Sean Jones was suddenly knocked out of the Browns plans during June's quarterback school, the victim of an on-field injury (ACL tear) during a no-contact scrimmage. Like Curry the Summer before, his season was over before the pads had been put on.

After getting the news, Jones' teammates talked of making sure that he isn't felt left out during his rookie season, and the Browns are still obligated to bargain with him in good faith. Regardless, Jones' injury was a blow felt by everyone in the Browns' orbit, but nowhere could it be felt as painfully as by the player himself.

Of those around him, no one could possibly understand Jones' upcoming struggle more than his teammate from Georgia, the "star of the show" whose final year of college football was derailed before it started.

* * *

In the crowded and loud Browns locker room, Kentrell Curry sits by himself, quietly getting dressed after practice.

Scouts tell Bernie's Insiders that Curry's considered a hard worker - that he's a self-motivated and "coachable" player. They like his awareness on the field, where - unlike many NFL strong safeties - he tends to make solid decisions and takes few chances. At the same time, scouts tell us, he plays with a passion and there is no doubt that he is a physical player.

While Curry dresses, reporters hover around Chris Crocker, the Browns' well-spoken second-year defensive back, to get his opinion on what Sean Jones' injury means to the team. Crocker had been praised by Butch Davis earlier in the day, and appears to be the team's next-in-line to help bolster the safety position.

Crocker had been a surprising first-day draft choice by the Browns in 2003, while Curry slipped through the cracks of the NFL draft one-year later. Considered a likely first-day selection prior to his injury, Curry had uneventfully signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent.

Jones and Curry, linked in the Bulldogs backfield, had taken turns over the last year as the fortunes of one rose and the other had suffered an injury. The prospect is there for it to happen again as a healthy Curry attempts to step up in training camp.

But the ironic turn of events and glowing scouting reports won't help Curry win a job in the competitive NFL.

On his way to living up to pre-season predictions of an eventual starting job for an NFL club, Curry has to win a a place on the roster while up against a number of NFL-savvy veterans.

Robert Griffith remains the likely starter, and Chris Crocker, Michael Jameson, along with new acquisition David Gibson, are on the depth chart at strong safety. There are rumors the Browns are still looking at other safeties they might bring in.

Curry, finally back in practice after nine months, now has to learn the Browns' defensive scheme and adjust to the faster pace of the NFL game, while convincing the teams' coaching staff that he's all the way back from his injury. He's probably going to have to beat out one of the veterans to land a job. It is not an insurmountable task, but it certainly will not be an easy one.

The soft-spoken Curry says that all he's worried about right now is learning the defense. The Browns haven't specifically told him what he needs to work on, but he's practicing full-time at the spotlighted strong safety position.

As the June practices ended, though, the focus was on his Bulldog teammate. We asked Curry what advice he might have for Jones, whose presence in Cleveland had made his transition to a new locker room easier.

"(I'd tell him) it's never over", Curry told us. "For me, it was my senior year, and I wanted to go out with a bang. Things didn't work out like that."

It is now ten months after Curry got the bad news, and he still has a shot at making an NFL team. There is a lot of hard work ahead, but it's not over for Kentrell Curry, either.

- BDMc

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