BEREA, Ohio--Coming back from a situation that LeCharles Bentley described as "life threatening," the Cleveland Browns center was all smiles and confident Tuesday about his pending return to the NFL.
After a two-year hiatus that included a pair of left knee surgeries, the former Pro Bowl center passed his physical and conditioning drills in order to return to the Browns. One surgery was to repair his torn patellar tendon that he suffered on the first day of training camp in 2006, while the second was to clear out a subsequent staph infection.
The second surgery is where things got dicey for Bentley. He wouldn't go into details, but said his emotions ranged from "not expecting to live," to "you'll be lucky to play again," to "things are getting better," where he currently stands today.
"It was really a test,'' Bentley said after the team's first minicamp practice. "So many times I wanted to quit, but I just couldn't quit. Honestly, now for the rest of my career and the rest of my time as a football player, I don't really think it's about me. It's not about me being the best or going to Pro Bowls. Right now I'm trying to show people that if you believe in something ... anything can happen."
Bentley added that he's not worried about rust or his playing ability, and promises that he will be playing in 2008. Still, the Browns remain cautiously optimistic.
Cleveland made a major investment in Bentley two years ago, signing him to a six-year, $36-million contract.That deal has since been shortened and now has one year remaining, in what is likely Bentley's last chance to play for his hometown team.
"He's made a lot of progress,'' Browns general manager Phil Savage said. "He wants to give it a go. We're willing to do that and we want to do that for him.''
Bentley was regarded as one of the top centers in the NFL before his injury. He was expected to anchor Cleveland's offensive line long term but hard luck followed.
Bentley injured his knee on the first day of training camp in 2006 blocking former teammate Ted Washington. The first surgery was expected to keep him out for one season but complications and a second surgery forced him to miss the past two years.
Now Bentley looks healthy again. He appears to be near his playing weight and his arms are monstrous. At the very least, Bentley could provide depth at center or guard for the Browns if he's able to stay healthy.
"I'm as good as I'm going to get,'' Bentley said. "I'm ready to go. I did a little bit of stuff today and hopefully I can get better at some things. But the sky is the limit now for me. I'm going to end up being a better player behind all this. I feel much better, I feel more stronger and I feel more explosive than I've ever been.''
James Walker covers the NFL for ESPN.com.