Tight end looks sleek as camp opens; Bently, Baxter don't suit up
The first day of Browns training camp wasn’t much to look at.
The fan turnout bordered on amazing. The perimeter of Friday’s practice-viewing area, roped by more than 200 yards of orange twine around two fields, was pure claustrophobia.
By the time Kellen Winslow Jr. appeared in a doorway, alone and fashionably late, there was no place left for fans to sit, stand or move.
But what would you rather have if you owned the Browns?
Uncomfortably crowded in miserable humidity? Or cold, dry apathy after four years of 19-45?
The big crowd let out a big cheer when players first started coming out. The sound said, “It’s football season.”
It was a while later when Winslow emerged. Few knew quite what it meant that the tight end had been on the “active PUP list,” a vague injury designation. They only knew he was aching in December, had microfracture knee surgery after an 89-catch season and missed all of the offseason practices.
It turned out Winslow passed a Thursday physical, popped off the PUP list, practiced and looked rather frisky.
The Browns have two big-ego stars in waiting: Winslow and wide receiver Braylon Edwards. The crowd really warmed up to Winslow, who for now is clearly more popular than Edwards.
As Winslow trotted the 100 yards from the door to his teammates, the cheer rose when he offered an appreciative wave. A bit later, when he broke into a spontaneous game of catch before stretching, another big cheer went up.
Winslow is a different breed. He enjoys the attention. When 80-some players finally spread out for stretching, everyone else sported shorts and bare lower legs. Winslow wore shorts over black Spandex.
The team sorely needs those legs to make things happen come autumn. Friday’s practice, sheer boredom on an action level — things will heat up in today’s double practice — at least let Winslow show off some moves.
He looked light on his feet and fast. During one drill, he turned to catch a short pass from Charlie Frye, pivoted and was running upfield in a move that was a blur. Tight end Steve Heiden caught the same pass moments later and didn’t look nearly as swift.
You’d expect a former No. 6 overall draft pick to look sleeker than a journeyman going on 31. But this display counted for something, given the mystery surrounding Win¬s¬low, who is still very young. He turned 24 last Saturday.
After practice, he was just as quick, moving away from reporters, saying he’ll talk in a day or two.
Two others who stayed on the active PUP list, center LeCharles Bentley and cornerback Gary Baxter, neither practiced nor talked.
The offseason unfolded with Bentley seeming unlikely to play for a second straight season. A surprise revelation that Bentley wants to play in ’07 doesn’t necessarily put him closer to doing so.
General Manager Phil Savage addressed misguided spec¬ulation Bentley might practice Friday.
“Essentially, we’re delaying what has been advertised,” Savage said. “We are putting it off for four more weeks, because he is not quite ready to put on equipment and go out there.”
You probably can file and forget Bentley for a while. Savage said the 27-year-old center will keep “rehabbing,” mostly with a personal trainer he used in Arizona, mostly away from the Browns’ complex, though with the Browns’ blessing.
Savage advised against reading anything into the fact he hadn’t seen Bentley between Friday and a December dinner meeting. Head Coach Romeo Crennel represented the team in offseason talks with the former Pro Bowler.
“This is not a contentious situation,” Savage said. “This is not LeCharles Bentley vs. the Browns in a steel cage match.
“If anything, we’re excited about the potential of LeCharles coming back.”
Hank Fraley, who started all 16 games at center last year, practiced as the starter Friday and said he wishes Bentley well.
Crennel strongly hinted Fraley will be the center for at least the first part of the season. He didn’t rule out Bentley playing in 2007 in the wake of a physical the team plans to give him in four weeks.
“LeCharles looks good,” Crennel said. “We had a 40-minute talk, and he’s in a good frame of mind.”
Crennel said Bentley’s job is to keep working on his rehab.
“My job,” Crennel added, “is to be realistic.”
So, count on Winslow. Don’t count on Bentley. Keep wondering about Baxter.
Bentley is recovering from four surgeries to address one blown-out patellar tendon — he went down on the first camp play of 11-on-11s one year ago Friday. Baxter is recovering from a one-day operation to fix patellar tendons that ruptured in both knees.
Savage said Baxter probably could have passed a physical Friday, clearing him for practice.
“We wanted to hold him through the weekend,” Savage said.
Baxter will get that physical “no later than Monday,” Savage said.
Reach Canton Repository sports writer Steve Doerschuk at (330) 580-8347 or e-mail email@example.com