Saints center Bentley enjoying training camp
Saints center Bentley enjoying training camp
BY LES EAST
Special to The Advocate
Advocate staff photo
Saints center LeCharles Bentley makes line calls during practice.
METAIRIE -- Training camp is never fun, but Saints center LeCharles Bentley seems to be enjoying this one about as much as a player can.
He has good reason: he's a year removed from a bumpy transition from guard to center and is feeling much more comfortable as the anchor of a rebuilt offensive line. Also, his contract expires at the end of the season and as a 25-year-old former Pro Bowl selection, he's going to cash in, one way or another.
One of three things will happen: the Saints will sign him to a new, much more lucrative deal; he'll become a free agent and let several suitors bid against one another, or the Saints will tag him as their 'franchise player', which would probably be the biggest bonanza of the three.
A 'franchise' player is guaranteed the average salary of the 10 highest-paid players at his position the previous season. This year's top 10 offensive linemen have an average salary of $7.424 million. That figure will be higher for next year's franchise linemen.
While much was said during the off-season about negotiations that eventually led to big raises for defensive end Darren Howard, wide receiver Joe Horn, running back Deuce McAllister and cornerback Mike McKenzie, Bentley's contract situation has flown under radar for the most part.
He seems content to let the negotiations play out however they do, while he concentrates on getting to the Pro Bowl as a center two years after he was selected as a guard.
General manager Mickey Loomis said he expects to resume negotiations with Bentley's agent in the near future.
"I'm not going to ask for anything," Bentley said after practice this week. "I'm not going to beg anybody for anything. Either you're going to give it to me or you're not going to give it to me. It is what it is. Right now I have a contract. I'm honoring that, having a great time being here. I love the city, I love the people, I love the team. But I understand there's a business aspect to it. Whatever's going to be is going to be."
Coach Jim Haslett and offensive coordinator Mike Sheppard said the difference in Bentley from last training camp to this one is significant.
Last year he had to make the adjustment after missing the entire off-season program to rehab from knee surgery which prevented him from participating in the Pro Bowl.
It took him a while to get comfortable making the line calls and snapping the ball to quarterback Aaron Brooks in the shotgun.
"There's no question he's much further along," Sheppard said. "He's come back and picked up from where he left off. He's gotten better. He's much more comfortable with things. You can see it because things are happening faster at the line of scrimmage for us and for him. It's really nice to see him back in there feeling that good about things."
Bentley eventually settled down last season and had fewer problems with the calls and the snaps late in the season.
"He's making calls, and you don't see the ball on the ground," Haslett said. "He and Aaron have a great relationship now with the snap. We knew we were going to struggle, but we didn't know it was going to be to that magnitude. LeCharles missed a whole off-season, so that's probably why. It's night and day, and the guy is going to be a great center."
Bentley has two new players on his right this season -- former Pro Bowl guard Jermane Mayberry, signed as a free agent, and No. 1 draft choice Jammal Brown at tackle.
"They definitely have the ability," Bentley said. "Mayberry is a proven guy. I'm quite sure he and I together are going to be quite a force. Jammal has a ways to go before he gets to where we want him to be, but his work ethic is outstanding and he has all the tools in the world."
Starting defensive tackles Brian Young and Howard Green get an up-close view of Bentley daily in practice.
"He's a big, strong guy. He plays with a lot of aggression and a lot of heart," Young said of Bentley. "If you get your weight off balance, he's going to try and throw you to the ground as quickly as possible. That's just the way he is. That's why he went to the Pro Bowl a couple of years ago. He really tries to give it to the younger guys, make an example of them, let them know what they're coming into."
Green, who played at LSU, qualifies as one of those younger guys, beginning his second full season in New Orleans.
"He's a real intense guy," Green said. "He takes his job real seriously. He's made me a lot better with my game. I've gotten better from the time I set foot here. I've gotten more physical off the ball because he gets off the ball so fast. He gets on you.
"If you can beat him off the ball and get your hands on him and control him that's a win because I'd say there's nobody in the league who can do it better than he can. He's a top-notch guy. He's in control out there."
After Saturday night's Black & Gold Scrimmage, the Saints did not practice Sunday. It was the first day since camp began on July 29 that the players did not practice. They attended meetings Sunday night and will return to practice today at 9 a.m., in a workout open to the public at the team's Metairie training facility. ... Season-ticket holders will have an opportunity to watch a private training camp practice at 7:30 p.m. today in the Superdome. Saints fans who are not already season-ticket holders can participate in a Select-A-Seat event with ticket sales representatives by going to Gate A on the Superdome's ground level between 6 and 8 p.m. ... The team will have another off-site workout Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Hahnville High School. That workout will be open to the public.
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