With today's stunning loss of starting center LeCharles Bentley, the Browns and their fans are left to ponder what comes next.
While the addition of All-Pro center, one of several hometown products added to the team this off-season, was a key part of the Browns' hopes, the 2006 schedule still dictates that the team needs to be ready to play regular season games in September. In the NFL, there is no looking back... only forward.
NFL sources tell the OBR that the Browns have already decided to move forward with Bob Hallen as their starting center for the 2006 season. While Hallen has been with several clubs, he did start for the first five years he was in the NFL, four in Atlanta, and one in San Diego. The Browns acquired Hallen (yet another hometown product) to help them deal with injuries to their starting offensive linemen, and he will serve exactly that purpose.
The Browns will then have to struggle with finding an adequate backup for Hallen. Our sources believe that the Browns best options are limited, but start with C Jeff Mitchell (Carolina Panthers). While Mitchell is a talented offensive lineman, he has been mentioned by prosecutors in sentencing Dr. James Shortt, who was convicted of distributing steroids and HGH earlier this year. Possibly as a result, the 32-year-old Mitchell never received any significant free agent offers and has considered retirement. With the Browns suddenly without a center beyond undrafted free agent Rob Smith on the roster, Mitchell's phone may ring.
Our sources believe that the team's other options will be Cory Raymer, who was released in March by the Redskins to reclaim cap space. Larry Moore, recently released by the Bengals, is a secondary option. Moore ripped up his knee last season, and is still coming back, but would give the team some peace of mind as a veteran back-up.