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Bentley cleared to play

CLEVELAND (AP) - Browns center LeCharles Bentley was cleared by his surgeon to return to the playing field on Monday, another major step in his unexpected comeback from a career-threatening knee injury.

"I passed it," Bentley said excitedly on the phone from New York. "I'm good to go."

Bentley underwent a physical with Dr. Russell Warren, the New York Giants' team physician who performed two operations on the two-time Pro Bowler, whose injury was complicated by a staph infection.

Bentley's first season with the Browns ended on the first play of contact in training camp last summer when he tore the patellar tendon in his left knee.

Later, his injury became infected with staph, and the virus became so severe that Bentley said it nearly killed him and that doctors had considered amputation of his leg.

Bentley said he will return to Arizona, where he has spent the past several months rehabbing his injury. He plans to be back in Cleveland on Thursday to report for training camp.

Bentley will likely have to pass a team physical before the Browns allow him back on the field.

"That really doesn't matter to me," said Bentley, who signed a six-year, $36 million contract with the Browns in March 2006. "The top doctor in the field has told me that I'm OK. I've just got to keep making progress.

"The last person to go into my knee says I'm OK, and that's good enough for me."

Browns general manager Phil Savage was not immediately available for comment.

Bentley underwent four surgeries after injuring his knee. The first was to repair the torn tendon and the other three were to fix damage caused by the staph infection, which led to two long hospital stays for the 27-year-old.

He was scheduled to have a fifth procedure on the knee in June, but Bentley said Warren decided against it because of how much progress the 6-foot-2, 310-pounder was making.

Before Bentley called coach Romeo Crennel late last month and told him he planned to report to training camp, the Browns weren't sure if he would ever play for them again. The club has handled Bentley's situation delicately in the past few months, often deferring questions to the player and his representatives.

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