Cleveland Browns center LeCharles Bentley suffered a career-threatening injury on the first play of preseason last year. Bentley, an Ohio State graduate, was signed by the Browns after several years anchoring the line of the New Orleans Saints. Bentley is an excellent player with the strength, agility, quickness and intelligence to lead a chorus of blockers in the tandem arts whether running or passing. He is an elite player.
For a life-long Steeler fan and a Michigan grad, Bentley is absolutely on the wrong side of the fence. He has been since he left high school. Decisions to embrace my arch rivals in Columbus and Cleveland, notwithstanding, his skill is undeniable.
True football fans must appreciate the play of elite centers. The center is the quarterback or point guard, if you will, of the offensive line. He is responsible for “reading the defense” and determining what type of protection (or blocking scheme) should be used from play to play. Sometimes the scheme will call for the line to overpower a single player or attack one side of the field or use deception to slow oncoming rushers. This sophisticated business requires acute awareness and the capacity to lead. Bentley does that as well as anyone in the league today.
Historically, the Steelers have been blessed with Hall-of-Fame caliber centers. Much has been made of the franchises’ incredible stability at head coach. There have been three coaches for most of the past four decades (Chuck Noll-Bill Cowher-Mike Tomlin). The Steelers have only had three centers over nearly as long a period: Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and Jeff Hartings. Webster was the toughest and Dawson was the best I’ve ever seen.
One of the hallmarks of a great center is the capacity to lead a play by “pulling” to one side of the field. In this instance, the center moves to the left or right (instead of blocking straight ahead) and leads a running back to the outside edge of the field. Along the way, the center may have to block multiple players. The best centers are able to evade alert defensive tackles who may want to keep them inside; capable of getting defensive ends or linebackers on the ground; and keeping their feet to get a hit on advancing secondary players. This is one of the most athletic, graceful plays in the game of football.
The speed, balance and timing required for a 300 pound man to lead a quicker running back around the corner – and block multiple defenders is sets certain players apart. In football, this role has traditional been given to guards. It is rare that a team has a center capable of pulling effectively. Bentley does this. All of the Steeler centers have done this. Kevin Mawae, who began his career with the Seattle Seahawks, still does this.
The Browns stand to be a much better team with LeCharles Bentley back in the fold. I am pleased that his recovery has come along thusly. Congratulations.