Ernster has filled in respectably for Todd Sauerbrun while Sauerbrun serves a four-game NFL suspension. Last year Ernster kicked off in one game, then tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee before the second game.
Sauerbrun, one of the top punters in the NFL, handled kickoffs after Ernster was injured and did a good job. The Broncos usually like their punter to handle kickoffs to save a roster spot and Ernster was coming off a major injury, so he didn't know before Sauerbrun was suspended if he'd get another opportunity.
"You're always worried this is your last shot, your last go around," Ernster said. "After the ACL, you get down because you're hurt pretty significantly. You're thinking about a lot of stuff and wondering if you're going to be done."
Ernster punted well in the preseason and earned the job to replace Sauerbrun. He said punting and kicking off in the season opener at St. Louis was special because he had come back from his ACL surgery to kick in the NFL again.
"It was very nice," Ernster said. "It was like a breath of fresh air. You come off an ACL and you're questioning what's going to happen, and you get back out there in a real game in the regular season and you're like 'I made it.'"
Ernster had another solid day against dangerous Kansas City returner Dante Hall in Week 2, which was a tough assignment. The Broncos are anxious to get Sauerbrun back because he is a difference maker on special teams, but Ernster hasn't given them much reason to panic while Sauerbrun is out.
"We knew going in we were going to be without Todd, so the job Paul's doing has been tremendous," linebacker Keith Burns said. "He's been eager since he missed last year messing up his knee."
--WR Rod Smith practiced again on Thursday and is still probable to play this week. Smith suffered a mild concussion last week against Kansas City.
--DE Courtney Brown participated in the early warmup portion of practice on Thursday but missed the team portion of practice. Brown has an injured knee and likely won't play this week. The team will reevaluate him after the bye.
--CB Darrent Williams has 10 yards on three punt returns this year. Williams said he isn't worried, he has confidence in his blockers and feels close to breaking a long return.
--RB Tatum Bell had one of his best days as a pro against New
England last year. Bell had 114 yards and a touchdown on only 13 carries, and
he had a 68-yard run. Bell has 172 yards in two games this season.
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