Clock Ticking on Bentley

Heading into the bye as a .500 team, the Browns now need to decide what to do with former All-Pro offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley. Will 2006's biggest free agent signing return to help the offensive line?

The Browns are on the clock concerning injured guard/center LeCharles Bentley. Bentley is on the physically unable to perform list strengthening his left leg as he recovers from patellar tendon complications.

Coincidentally, the bye comes after the sixth game for the Browns. Trying to decide what to do with Bentley moving forward will consume part of the time the coaches and general manager Phil Savage are in meetings on the bye week, though they do not have to arrive at a conclusion immediately.

Sometime over the next three weeks the Browns have to decide whether to take Bentley off the PUP list. Then they would have a three-week exemption to decide whether to put him on the active roster. The other alternative is to put him on injured reserve. In all, the Browns could play 11 games before making a decision.

Bentley worked with trainers outside on the Friday before the Browns played the Dolphins while his teammates practiced indoors. He was working on his hand quickness, simulating locking his hands on a blocker, and on his lateral movement.

Bentley looked very quick with his hands. The session did not last long, however. He wore a heavy brace on his left knee.

Bentley was injured on the first play of training camp in 2006. He has not played since.

Bentley could be further ahead than defensive back Gary Baxter. Oct. 22 will be the one-year anniversary of Baxter suffering tears in both patellar tendons in a game against the Broncos. Baxter was on the P.U.P. list at the start of training camp, but three days later he was made part of the active roster. He did not play in the preseason and he did not play in any of the first six games.

"He's not ready yet," said coach Romeo Crennel, tired of answering questions about Bentley.

If Bentley is activated he would probably play right guard rather than center. Bentley played guard two of the four years he was in New Orleans. He signed a six-year, $36 million to play center in March of 2006, but never played a down.

Overall the offensive line has played much better this year than in past seasons, but the one area that can improve is running plays to the right side, and Bentley if healthy could make that happen. Pass blocking for Derek Anderson has been good. Anderson was not sacked by Cincinnati, Oakland or Baltimore. New England snapped the streak by sacking Anderson three times. The Dolphins sacked him once.

Left guard Eric Steinbach and left tackle Joe Thomas are the biggest reasons for the improved offensive line. Thomas was matched against the Dolphins' Jason Taylor. Taylor was credited with a one-yard sack on a scramble by Anderson.

"Joe has done a good job to this point," Crennel said. "When you think about the fact that he's a rookie and he's come in and been able to start, he has been able to help make our offensive production in the middle stretch of games pretty good."

Steinbach has proven he can play with pain. He suffered a stinger against the Ravens and returned to the game. He was limited in practice the following week because of the injury and played the entire game against New England.

Bentley can play with pain, too. The question that has to be determined is whether his leg will hold up after four operations.

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