CLEVELAND (AP) -Center LeCharles Bentley, whose first season with Cleveland ended with a freakish knee injury last summer that became infected and threatened his life and NFL career, plans to play for the Browns this season.
The club's marquee free-agent signing in 2006, Bentley said Sunday that he'll report to training camp in a few weeks and that his goal is to be ready for the season opener on Sept. 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
``It's unbelievable how far I've come in the last few months,'' Bentley said in a phone interview from Arizona, where he has been rehabbing and working out for the past few months. ``I feel so blessed to even be in a position to think about playing again. I've come so far. I'm not going to stop now.''
Bentley, who tore his left patellar tendon while planting on the first full-contact play of training camp last July, expects to be on the field for the Browns' first full workout on July 27.
He called Browns coach Romeo Crennel two weeks ago to tell him that he'd be in camp and that he planned to play this season.
``I think he was shocked,'' Bentley said. ``I think a lot of people are.''
The 27-year-old revealed that he has undergone four operations since getting hurt, the final two to clean out a staph infection that ate away at his tendon and a virus that became so severe that doctors considered amputating his leg.
``At one point, I was so sick they weren't sure I was going to live through the night,'' Bentley said.
New York Giants team physician Dr. Russell Warren performed Bentley's latest operation in November, when more staph was cleaned out and a portion of the deteriorated tendon was removed.
Following that procedure, Warren advised Bentley to begin thinking about life without football.
But Bentley, who signed a six-year, $36 million free agent contract with the Browns to play for his hometown team, wasn't nearly ready to give up. And after a few weeks of workouts, Bentley became convinced he could make it all the way back.
``He (Warren) is a great doctor,'' Bentley said. ``But doctors have told people they have six months to live and they go on to live full lives for years. For a while my wheels were spinning, but I was determined to make it back.''
Warren considered a fifth operation on Bentley in early June, but after seeing the two-time Pro Bowler's improvement in May, decided against it.
``He thought it was remarkable,'' Bentley said. ``He thought I had made enough progress that I didn't need another one (operation). I've still got a few more hurdles to overcome but I've come so far already.''
Bentley plans to visit Warren again before returning to the field.
His unexpected return is terrific news for the rebuilding Browns, who didn't think they'd have him for the upcoming season and weren't sure if the former Ohio State star would ever play for them at all.
``I'm sure people still don't know if I'll be back, and it's still probably going to be a little wait and see,'' he said. ``But if I play one more snap, that's one more snap than a lot of people ever thought I'd play.
``People are quick to want to kill a dream. But a lot of work and a lot of prayers later I'm ready to play again. I've been blessed.''

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