Rich Braham was the definition of working man. He was a consummate professional and a valued teammate. His old Bengals pals always speak of him with the utmost respect. When he was carted off against Cleveland, with 13:31 left in the second quarter, little did we know, that would be the last time we saw him. He announced his retirement late in the season. Braham, like so many offensive linemen, never desired publicity or celebrity. Through a period of questionable lineups with the offensive line, Braham was stability and toughness.
After going down during the second game of the season, the Bengals offensive line went into a period of instability giving up sacks, pressures; struggling to give Rudi Johnson ample room. Within time, things became stable. But it was then that most people realized how important Braham was to this offense.
Eric Ghiaciuc was the "apprentice" while Braham was the "mentor". Has that changed?
Ghiaciuc, in the past year, has had Ben Wilkerson on his tail. With Wilkerson came a proven center that should have gone high in the NFL draft. Injury devastated that plan and he was signed as an undrafted college free agent in 2005. Trying to recover from a torn left patella tendon, Wilkerson remained on the team's IR throughout the season. In 2006, he played the entire pre-season before being placed on the practice squad to start the season. After Braham went down, the Bengals tried to mix and match the line without signing Wilkerson to the active roster. On November 7, he was signed recording his first snap on November 26, ironically, against Cleveland. He had significant playing time against Baltimore and remained the backup center for the remainder of the season.
While Ghiaciuc remained the starter when healthy, Wilkerson solidified his spot on the depth chart as the backup center.
Some questioned the team signing former Cardinals center starter, Alex Stepanovich. Is this just normal off-season roster fodder? Or did both Ghiaciuc and Wilkerson fail to impress? Will Wilkerson go back to the practice squad or will Stepanovich go?
Whatever the scenario, I think the Bengals center situation isn't all that bad. With talented youth competing to start with the first team, the Bengals offensive line should be in decent shape come training camp. But we'll never see another Rich Braham again.