Friday, July 28, 2006

You Can't Miss What You Never Had

The season-ending knee injury to Browns free agent center LeCharles Bentley has all the usual suspects in Cleveland media putting in their usual minimal effort dissecting the impact. Generally, it falls into either of two categories, or both: this is a devastating blow to the Browns chances and/or the Browns, once again are jinxed, to wit: Kellen Winslow, Jr., Braylon Edwards, Gary Baxter, etc. And nauseum.

The injury to Bentley is a serious matter, to be sure. And it appears as though his status for next season is also somewhat in doubt. But the truth of the matter is that it's hard to miss what we never had. Bentley played exactly zero games for the Browns. Unlike both Winslow and Edwards, who actually played some games, we can only speculate what he might have done under game conditions and whether or not his considerable talents would help turn this moribund franchise around. We are only left to wonder, at this point, how it might effect the development of Charlie Frye. Unless and until Bentley actually suits up and plays will we ever be able to fully appreciate what impact, if any, this injury has had on the Browns.

Not to be pollyannish about the whole thing, but if your team is going to have this type of injury, it's best that it happen on the first day of practice then after the offense has been completely installed and the regular season has begun. Signing a stop-gap free agent during the season and asking him to account for the loss of a starter while you're preparing for your next game is, at best, difficult. At least in this instance the Browns have an entire training camp to adjust.

It will be interesting, though, to see how the players react and, more importantly, how Head Coach Romeo Crennel reacts. Recall early in the baseball season when the Detroit Tigers were playing the Indians and the Tigers bumbled their way to another loss. New manager Jim Leyland publicly challenged his team not to hang its head, accept the loss as if it was a continuation of the several previous and miserable seasons. The Tigers responded and have engineered one of the greatest turnarounds ever in baseball. Crennel needs to do the same. He needs to challenge this team not to lament what they've never had but to focus on what they do have. And in that context this team may not be the football equivalent of the Tigers, but even without Bentley they are much improved and, if properly motivated, can continue their progress toward returning to the playoffs.

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