BEREA — Punter Dave Zastudil doesn’t want his Browns career to end like this.
He knows it could.
Zastudil was placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a troublesome right knee, ending his season. This is the last year of the five-year contract he signed in 2006.
“That’s one of the hardest things for me, is knowing that there’s a chance I may not be here and how much I love the city and how much I love the fans,” Zastudil said on a conference call. “I’m from Cleveland. I love the fans in Cleveland. I’ll always be a Cleveland Brown.
“When my career is over, I’ll still be going to Cleveland Browns games.”
Zastudil, a Bay High graduate, missed the last eight games of 2009 and had a torn right (plant leg) patellar tendon surgically repaired in December. He kicked July 31 on the opening day of training camp, but quickly shut it down.
“My knee just didn’t react the way I was hoping,” he said. “It flamed up on me pretty good.
“I did everything in my power to get ready for the season and apparently the tendon just wasn’t ready to go yet.”
He visited his surgeon, Dr. Richard Steadman, in Colorado, who said another surgery wasn’t necessary. Zastudil returned to town but not practice, and the Browns decided they couldn’t wait for the knee to get better.
“We thought we had turned the corner and hadn’t, so this was the next step,” coach Eric Mangini said.
“The season starts up here in a couple of weeks and I just can’t give them a timeframe of when I’ll be ready,” Zastudil said. “It’s disappointing, but I understand the organizational side of it.”
Reggie Hodges will handle the punting duties. He filled in for Zastudil last season and has been with the team since. Hodges has kicked in 32 NFL games, and averaged 39.8 yards on 45 punts in eight games with the Browns last year. He had a net of 36.4 and 15 kicks inside the 20-yard line.
Mangini said he won’t bring in any competition.
“I’m comfortable with Reggie as the punter,” he said. “He did a good job last year. Not only did he a good job punting, but he did a good job as a holder, which is also another critical job for the punter.”
Zastudil left Baltimore for the Browns as a free agent in 2006 and played 52 games with Cleveland. He posted career highs in 2008 with a 45.5 gross and 39.4 net, ranking eighth and fourth in the AFC.
He averaged 44.7 and 39.1 last year despite a sore knee. He was leading the NFL with 25 punts inside the 20 when the pain became too much, and tied for sixth in the AFC for the season.
Zastudil will turn 32 in October and isn’t ready to stop playing.
“My No. 1 goal is to get healthy,” he said. “My No. 2 goal is to get back on the field and do what I love to do, and that’s playing football. When I get healthy, I’m going to do everything I can to come back and do the best I can and try to help a team somewhere.”
A torn patellar tendon is a serious injury, so it was never a given that he’d be ready by the start of camp. Placing him on the physically unable to perform list was an option, but the team and Zastudil felt he was on schedule when camp opened.
If he had been on PUP, he could’ve been activated at anytime during the preseason. If he wasn’t better, he could’ve stayed on PUP for the first 6-9 weeks of the regular season.
“Obviously now maybe I wish I was (on PUP), but those are hard things to say,” he said. “At the time, I got cleared. I did my running test, I was punting and progressing, and we all felt it was time for me to keep progressing through camp and go right into the season.
“Sometimes you have these setbacks that you’re very unprepared for. I felt very confident in the decision.”
That only deepens the disappointment.
“It’s tough for me to go on IR,” Zastudil said. “I’d give anything to be out there with the guys and play for the Browns. That’s why I’m here.
“Obviously the healing process just isn’t quite finished yet. There’s still some rehab I’m going to have to be doing to get this tendon right.”
If Zastudil never plays for the Browns again, it will be the final chapter in a heartbreaking story of homecomings gone bad.
Zastudil, center LeCharles Bentley and receiver Joe Jurevicius were Northeast Ohio natives and signed as free agents within days of each other. They were supposed to resurrect the franchise.
It didn’t happen.
Bentley tore a patellar tendon, got a staph infection, never played in a game for the Browns and has filed a lawsuit against the team. Jurevicius played two seasons, had knee surgery, got a staph infection, was forced to retire and settled a lawsuit against the team.
Zastudil is hoping for a happier ending to his career. Ideally with the Browns.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.