The Browns are in the market for another center. Bob Hallen, who became the starter after a patellar tendon injury ended LeCharles' Bentley's season, left the team last week for what coach Romeo Crennel said were "personal and medical reasons" and then retired hours before the Browns played their first preseason game.
Hallen's departure left Alonzo Ephraim as the starting center. Ephraim was signed July 29 as Hallen's backup. The Browns also signed Todd Washington and Mike Mabry to shore up the interior of the line. Washington retired a week later. Mabry, a 2003 seventh-round draft choice by the Ravens, has not played in an NFL game.
Ephraim did a passable job during a 20-7 loss to the Eagles, but it was not enough to make the Browns content.
"All the snaps were good," quarterback Charlie Frye said. "But Alonzo and I have to work together as much as we can. If that means staying after practice or after meetings to work together, that's what we have to do."
On the day Hallen left the team, the Browns traded a conditional seventh-round draft choice to the Patriots for Ross Tucker. Cleveland is Tucker's fifth team in five years. He has 24 NFL starts but only four at center.
Despite acquiring Tucker, the Browns want to sign or trade for a starting center and the 31 other teams in the league know it. Fortunately for the Browns, the season doesn't start until Sept. 10, so they do not have to make a trade today.
"There are always possibilities," Crennel said. "The question is, `What's the cost?' We could always get a starter if we wanted to give up enough. If you have to give up too much, then you have to weigh that.
"If we were playing the regular season game (soon), then we might feel like we have to get somebody in here. There's the old adage, haste makes waste. We're not going to go after the first thing that jumps out. We're going to do our homework and make the best decision we can."
Crennel admitted he was surprised by what Hallen did. According to his agent, Clifford Brady, Hallen aggravated a back injury that started when Hallen played for Atlanta.
Hallen practiced in the first of a two-a-day practice on Aug. 7. He walked out of the building before the afternoon practice and the Browns never saw him again. They are not convinced his back injury is severe.
Hallen grew up in the Cleveland suburb of Mentor. He signed a two-year contract with the Browns to be a backup guard and center after four seasons with the Falcons and four with the Chargers.
"There were no attitude issues, he's a good kid." Crennel said. "I think he wanted to be a starter. I felt like he accepted the challenge going in and he tried to do the best that he could."
Ephraim was unemployed for four months after being released by the Dolphins. He played two seasons with Philadelphia and one with Miami. He has five NFL starts, all at right guard. He played center at the University of Alabama and says it is his natural position