Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Browns haven't punted on one local signing

November 1, 2006
By: Jeff Schudel

The homecoming party that was anticipated when the Browns signed LeCharles Bentley, Bob Hallen and Joe Jurevicius in free agency hasn't really been the blast it should have been.

Bentley is out for the year with a torn patellar tendon, Hallen unexpectedly retired and Jurevicius has become an afterthought in the offense with 10 receptions after catching 55 passes and 10 touchdowns with Seattle last year.

But there was one other hometown connection made in free agency last winter, and that one could not be working better.

Dave Zastudil, quarterback, kicker and punter at Bay Village High School a decade ago, is booming the ball as the Browns punter.
He punted five times Sunday against the Jets and averaged nearly 50 yards - 48.4 to be exact - a punt.

"He's been pretty consistent and has a level of confidence," Coach Romeo Crennel said. "He gives us a chance when he kicks the ball 50 yards or more to make some plays. We don't always make the plays there, but he gives us an opportunity."

"Consistency" is the key word in Crennel's appraisal. That consistency landed Zastudil at Ohio University, where he led the Mid-American Conference in punting for four straight years.

The Baltimore Ravens thought enough of Zastudil to draft him in the fourth round in 2002. Zastudil's best season in Baltimore was 2005 when he averaged 43.5 yards a punt. That is slightly less than the 44.8 he is averaging with the Browns.

Just as with Bentley, Hallen and Jurevicius, the fact Zastudil grew up so close to Cleveland was more a bonus than a reason to sign him. If he did not punt as well as he did, the Browns would not have given him a $10 million deal for four years.

Zastudil is thrilled to be punting for his hometown team. But the truth of the matter is that once the game begins, his job here is the same as it was in Baltimore.

"It's great, but once you get into the season, you have a job to do," he said. "You make friends on the team and start respecting your teammates. You want to win for those guys, too. You want that team to come together and win.

"But it is pretty cool kicking for your hometown team. The fans are behind us and that's great. I just go into the game with the same mentality that I do in any high school, college or NFL game. It doesn't matter where I'm playing, but the fact I can do that and help Cleveland have a winning team is pretty cool."

Late in the game against the Jets Sunday, the Browns were backed up on their own 12, which meant Zastudil had to punt from around the 4. He boomed a 52-yarder that Tim Dwight returned 17 yards. The Jets were still 47 yards from the goal line and did not score.

"We know Dave is one of the best punters in the league," quarterback Charlie Frye said. "He can change the field position with one kick."

And here's the best part. Zastudil, without being boastful, said he can be better. He is currently ranked 10th in punting average and, more importantly, sixth in net average at 39.3.

"I feel like I'm hitting the ball solidly," he said. "There were a couple punts I wish I had hit differently. I feel like I'm doing OK, but I'm never satisfied. I still think I can get better. I'm working on a couple things in practice."

Zastudil is also the holder for Phil Dawson on field goals and extra points. That makes him the answer to a trivia question. In Baltimore he held for Matt Stover, the Browns' place kicker from 1991 until the team was moved to Baltimore in 1996.

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