Healing in Cleveland

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.

Bentley has been cleared to play by doctors.

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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.

webster_sep24_home.jpgMike Webster

dawson_dermontti_150-1501.jpgDermontti Dawson

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.

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4 comments

  1. Good job putting the spotlight on a position that should get more attention. I remember when the Browns signed Bentley how excited they were they now had a true anchor for their OL. Here in Philly, the Eagles were very interested in securing his services but came up short.

  2. Thanks. I really enjoy the tactical aspects of line play. O-line is definitely a “skill position.” The same goes for defense. Coverage of NFL games would be infinitely better if more replays were dedicated to showing what happens in the trenches. I believe it would also go a long way to showing how some teams effectively establish offensive rhythm by varying their blocking schemes. Think Colts-Ravens. Manning wasn’t the story in that game. It was the guys up front.

  3. You’re absolutely correct about Colts-Ravens. By the way, I didn’t type that “Eagles were very interested in securing his services” lightly. The Eagles rarely step outside of the box and consider other folks’ free agents (T.O. being a notable exception). They also rarely spend money. That being said, they really wanted Bentley from all reports. I do agree trench play does not get as much game analysis as it should.

  4. Thanks. I really enjoyed that game because I was totally surprised at how easily the Colts line dominated the game. I’m a Steeler fan and the Ravens kicked Steel ass last year, twice. The game was a play calling masterpiece. It may have looked boring, but when you can neutralize all of the amazing defenders on the Ravens (even long enough to maintain field position), you’ve done something special.

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