Braham opts for surgery

BY GEOFF HOBSON - GEORGETOWN, Ky.

Center Rich Braham decided to have surgery today to remove the bursa sack above his right kneecap and it's not known if he'll be available for the Sept. 10 opener against the Browns in less than six weeks.

"Three to five weeks. That's the estimate we're standing by," said trainer Paul Sparling. The good thing is the bye week is the first week, so that certainly plays in our favor. We'll do everything we can and I know he will, too, to make sure we can keep his down time to a minimum. There's always a risk of side effects, always a risk of complications with infection and all sorts of other things, but we're hopeful we'll be able to get by this one."

The Bengals don't have another center who has made an NFL start. Four-year veteran Brock Gutierrez, who has played in every preseason game for the club since he signed as a free agent out of Central Michigan in 1996, gets the call Friday night against the Bills in the preseason opener in Buffalo.

Guard Mike Goff will player center for the first time ever in a game Friday in a backup role. Doug Dorley, a free agent out of Bowling Green, will also get some snaps. But look for Gutierrez and Goff to play against gargantuan nose tackle Ted Washington and Washington's backup, Pat Williams.

"He could be the best backup in the league," Alexander said. "We'll find out about Brock and Goff, that's for sure. They're going up against real guys."

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The 6-3, 304-pound Gutierrez, cut and re-signed two years ago, has played in 22 regular-season games. But he's a preseasoned veteran. He's played at least a half in most of his 16 preseason games. He also played some with the first unit last year at center and some a few years ago at guard. He was baptized by fire in the '96 preseason when center Darrick Brilz got injured, but sat behind Brilz's team-leading number of snaps in the '97 regular season.

Gutierrez played behind the wrong guy again last year, when Braham led the team playing in 99.7 percent of the snaps. But he doesn't refer to himself as one of those NFL survivors.

"That's a guy who just hangs on," Gutierrez said. I think you're just playing hard and the guy in front of you leads the tean in snaps, so you don't get to play too much. Richie should be ready for the season. Tough guy."

It's true. Braham ran his streak to 44 straight starts despite suffering a broken toe in training camp two years ago. He missed just one exibition game and played in the first 12 regular-season games before a knee injury knocked him out for the final four games. But that happens once every eclipse. In '96, Braham led the team playing in 99.4 percent of the offense's snaps and followed that up in '97 by missing just six snaps.

Still, this injury was painful. With the bursa sack continuing to swell and tighten the knee, Braham had to get the knee drained four times and injected twice in the last 80 days or so. He chose surgery with University of Cincinnati team doctor Angelo Colisimo this morning after consulting with knee guru James Andrews and his agent, Vern Sharbaugh. On Sunday, Braham said he would do it if he didn't think he'd miss any regular-season games.

"The consensus was this was the best way to handle it," Sparling said. "Go ahead, take care of it now because he just didn't feel that he'd be able to continue to fight through this for 16 weeks."

Sparling said it's unusual for the bursa sack to be removed, but "because of the frequency of the symptoms, it just made sense and it comes at a good time."href="/press/news.asp?news_id=131">More...

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