Does he have a back injury or does he not?
Did he go to San Diego for a second opinion on said back injury or did he not?
Various published and Internet reports say the answers to the Bob Hallen questions posed above lie in the former. General manager Phil Savage might be leaning toward the latter.
This weird and wild training camp has officially blown past "bizarre" and landed squarely in "The Twilight Zone" with the veteran center officially informing the Browns of his retirement intentions. And, needless to say, these developments have left Savage surprised and more than slightly pissed off.
"I have to admit, I'm upset that he walked out on us two days before the first game without any warning, especially in light of us losing LeCharles Bentley," Savage told reporters. "It was totally unexpected. It really put us in a vise."
Hallen, signed to a two-year deal in the offseason to be the club's primary insurance policy at both guard and center, suddenly became the starter when Bentley went down with a season-ending injury on the first day of camp. With the pressure of starting for his hometown team—he's a Mentor native and Kent State alum—apparently weighing on him, the nine-year veteran suddenly developed a back issue earlier this week.
After going AWOL from camp following Monday morning's practice, Hallen informed head coach Romeo Crennel on Tuesday that he was having back issues. Later on that evening, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, Hallen met one-on-one with assistant head coach/offensive line coach Jeff Davidson.
That development in and of itself is astounding in a "Criss Angel ‘Mindfreak'" kinda way given that Hallen was reportedly in San Diego getting a second opinion on his "back" "injury".
Regardless of the circumstances, a Browns insider tells The OBR, a big part of the reason for Savage's utter verklemptness over the Hallen departure is that the center had left the impression in his conversations with both Crennel and Davidson that he would likely return, that he just "needed some time to clear his head".
"Everyone was under the impression that he was probably coming back. I don't want to say that this came out of left field or out of nowhere… let's just say that this wasn't how the final chapter of Hallen's career with the Browns was expected to be written," the insider said.
Savage even touched on Crennel's surprise at the retirement, telling reporters that "Romeo came down to my office, and he had that look on his face."
"I've had that look before. It was totally unexpected. It's more disappointing that there was no warning that he would walk away two days before a game. That's a bigger disappointment to us more than anything else. We could have had some other thoughts or ideas."
It was the intimation of a return, not simply Hallen going AWOL in the first place, that left a bad taste in Savage's mouth and led to his airing Hallen's dirty laundry yesterday.
"The organization went to bat for him, basically not telling the whole truth to the media so that he could collect himself and get over whatever it was he needed to get over without any public outcry or recrimination or whatever," said the insider. "And then he slaps the club in the face not just once, but twice. Amazing."
As for the supposed back injury, Savage was very vehement in defending his medical staff. The club has come under fire in recent days for allowing damaged goods to be the primary backup at such a critical position.
"He passed every medical check and every physical we ever gave him. He rarely, if ever, spent time in the training room," Savage said.
An Internet search revealed no back problems for Hallen during his time in the NFL. Likewise, the club's media guide makes no mention of any type of back issues. The Plain Dealer reported that Hallen received a cortisone injection in his back in 2001, but was not forced out of the lineup.
Yesterday, the newspaper, quoting Hallen's agent Cliff Brady, reported that the OL is suffering from damaged disks and stenosis, which is the narrowing of the spinal column.
Also, a Kent State official, who was at the school during Hallen's time as a Golden Flash, tells The OBR that he was unaware of any back issues surrounding Hallen during his college career.
It seems, then, as though this is the kind of back injury that crops up when one perceives that the weight of the Browns' world has been cast upon their ever-slouching back.
Now that the Browns know, officially, that Hallen will not return, where do they go from here on out?
Alonzo Ephraim, who did a decent job and did not embarrass himself during Thursday night's preseason opener, will remain the starter for the time being. Ross Tucker, acquired from the Patriots earlier in the week, will get a shot at overtaking Ephraim as the starter.
However, the most likely course of action remains a trade for a bonafide starter-quality center.
"I called maybe 12 teams who seemed to have a surplus at the center/guard position," Savage said.
"They know we're in dire straights. They realize that they're probably an injury away from being on the same level as us. You have to find the right team and the right match to pull off a trade at this point. My expectation is that this is something that we're going to try to resolve over the next three weeks. I don't think its going to happen tomorrow or Sunday."
The lovefest between Crennel and Eagles backup center Hank Fraley following Thursday's game in Philadelphia, though, would seem to indicate the direction in which the head coach would like to head and head in a hurry.
If the Browns are indeed going to pursue Vinny Testaverde at some point this month—and that seems likely, especially if they see another performance from Ken Dorsey like the one on Thursday—they could have some competition for the veteran's services.
Reportedly, the Patriots are none too enamored with Tom Brady's backup, Matt Cassell, and could have an interest in Testaverde if Cassell continues his up and down camp.
Testaverde, of course, has ties to New England head coach Bill Belichick, having played for Coach Mumbles during his five-year stint in Cleveland.