The Browns are watching closely and monitoring punter Dave Zastudil in practice to make sure the same thing that happened to him last year does not happen again.
Just before the start of the regular season in 2007, Zastudil pulled an oblique muscle. He ended up missing four of the first five games.
Zastudil looks good so far this summer. He says his back problems are behind him. Special teams coach Ted Daisher is confident Zastudil will bounce back, but he wants to see the proof.
"I think it nagged him throughout the year and as the year went on I think he got a little better, but I don't think he ever really got over it," Daisher said. "He's done a lot. He's more flexible. He's worked hard. I think he's ready to go.
"I'd just like to see him get a little more consistent on some of the things from the beginning to the end of the year. You're always nervous that something is going to happen. During the game is your biggest concern. We'd have to jog Phil Dawson out there to punt the ball. You never want to see that."
The Browns are certainly confident 2007 was just an off-year compounded by the back injury. There is no competition for Zastudil in training camp.
Though there is no competition, the Browns have a short list of punters, as they do for every position. When Zastudil could not play in the opener last year, general manager Phil Savage consulted his ready list and came up with Paul Ernster. Ernster was a disaster, but Scott Player punted for three games starting with the third game and did very well. He averaged 45.6 yards a punt. The decision to release him when Zastudil was cleared to punt again was not an easy one.
"Last year was a unique year for me," Zastudil said. "I came back and tried to get in rhythm right away and be the punter I know I can be. Unfortunately, I didn't have the year I wanted.
"The good thing now is my back feels great. I feel strong. I feel I'll be the punter I can be and once was. I just have to punt well and prove to the players on our punt team we'll get it back to one of the top punt coverage teams like it was in '06."
Daisher did not hesitate when asked what unit of special teams needs the most improvement: punt coverage. Part of that is on Zastudil, but not all of it.
"I was not pleased a year ago with how our punt team performed," Daisher said. "I know it's always a combination of things with Dave being a little bit injured and we didn't cover as well. I really have concentrated on that. We're going to really do a lot of that in practice here and in preseason.
"There is a chance there could be several new guys on the punt team from a year ago. It'll work itself out through the preseason. We need to get better."
Two of those replacements are likely to be rookie linebackers Beau Bell and Alex Hall. Bell is a fourth-round pick from UNLV. Hall is a seventh-round choice from St. Augustine.
CAMP CALENDAR: Training camp for the Browns ends Aug. 16.
--The Browns want to come out of this training camp knowing who their third receiver is while Joe Jurevicius recovers from knee surgery July 1, and so far the job belongs to Travis Wilson.
Wilson, a third-round draft choice from Oklahoma in 2006, emerged from spring practice and June minicamp as one of the most improved players on the Browns roster. That improvement has continued in training camp.
"The confidence he gained in OTAs and the minicamp has carried over here to the training camp," coach Romeo Crennel said. "I think he has more confidence in the routes he's running and knowing what he's doing. It shows up."
--Shoes and Clothes for Kids gave away 100 backpacks filled with school supplies after a morning practice. Afterward coach Romeo Crennel and nose tackle Shaun Smith addressed the youngsters.
"It means a lot to me to give back to the kids," Smith said. "I like to see their smiles."
--The words "The name on the door is Cleveland" appears on the front of the Browns media guide. The phrase implies the need for team effort rather than any prediction on how the Browns will do this season.
--The Browns have three players from UNLV, more than any other team in the NFL. Cornerback Eric Wright is a starter, linebacker Beau Bell is a fourth-round rookie projected as a key player on special teams and Mil'von James is fighting for a spot as the fourth cornerback. That job is wide open.
--Jamal Lewis is in excellent shape this training camp. He checked in weighing 237 pounds -- about 13 pounds lighter than he was last year. Lewis credits a strict offseason training regimen and diet.
Lewis trains in a sandpit he had built at a high school near his home in Atlanta. It is 60 feet long and eight feet wide. The sand is 18 inches deep. He said he runs sprints and cuts in the sand. His training sessions begin about two weeks after the previous season ends.
He said he eats eight times a day, always in small quantities. He'll eat egg whites and oatmeal for breakfast and then work out. Then he'll have a snack of fruits and nuts and work out again. Turkey or chicken and more fruits and nuts are on the menu. Then he will work out a third time.
--Offensive line coach Steve Marshall said when healthy, Ryan Tucker is the best offensive lineman on the Browns roster. Included in that group is Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas and left guard Eric Steinbach, who in 2007 signed a seven-year, $49.5 million contract.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There is a chance there could be several new guys on the punt team from a year ago. It'll work itself out through the preseason. We need to get better." -- Special teams coach Ted Daisher, on the punt coverage team.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LB Antwan Peek clutched his right knee after practice July 28 and two days later was on the injury report. On July 31, he had arthroscopic surgery. He will miss the entire preseason. The Browns are hopeful he will be ready for the season opener.
Nagging injuries plagued Peek all year in 2007. The Browns do not want a repeat, so the Browns are being very cautious. Any time Peek comes up limping there is cause for concern.
"He brings a lot to the table as a rusher because he has some quickness and physicality about him," coach Romeo Crennel said. "He played with some bumps and bruises last year. If we can keep him out there and healthy, I think he'll make a big impact on the defense and on the pass rush."
--Romeo Crennel wants Brady Quinn to be sharper in practice. Quinn threw three interceptions one day and a few days later was picked again. In between, he ended practice one day with a touchdown pass to Joshua Cribbs in the two-minute drill. The play covered 55 yards. Quinn zipped a laser to Cribbs on a deep slant and hit him in stride.
"He's taken some opportunities to try to make plays down the field that maybe last year he wouldn't make because he would just take what the defense gave him," Crennel said. "But I think he has a better command of the offense. He's trying to anticipate when he can make the play down the field, so I think some of that has occurred."
--Asked to name what young players have jumped out in training camp, Romeo Crennel named rookie LB Alex Hall and undrafted rookie RB Travis Thomas. Thomas, 5-11, 215 pounds, is intriguing because, of his 14 career starts at Notre Dame, 10 were at linebacker. To make the Browns roster, he will have to beat out Jason Wright or Jerome Harrison.
"My goal is to beat out one of them," Thomas said. "It's up to the coaches to decide whether I do that. All I can control is my effort and the way I play. It's a lot of competition, but it's healthy competition."
Thomas has not been a hesitant runner.
--Part-time WR Joshua Cribbs, a Pro Bowl player as a kick and punt returner last year, has been taking direct snaps in practice. Each time he ran the ball. A quarterback at Kent State, Cribbs is itching to pass.
"I feel empowered when I'm at quarterback," Cribbs said. "It's a great feeling. I love it. I'm telling the coaches to give me a wristband with the plays on it."
--The addition of Shaun Rogers is doing what it was supposed to do -- at least in practice. Rogers is causing so much commotion that Kamerion Wimbley is getting to the quarterback more. Of course, Wimbley is not about to sack his teammate, but he is hopeful adding Rogers and Corey Williams will allow him to increase his sack total of five last year. He had 11 sacks as a rookie in 2006.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Rookie Alex Hall vs. David McMillan at OLB -- The Browns assumed Hall would be a project when they drafted him from St. Augustine in the seventh round, but he looks comfortable making the leap to the NFL. McMillan was a fifth-round draft choice in 2005. He has played in 29 games with no starts. He has two career tackles. Time might be running out on him. Hall intercepted a pass from Brady Quinn early in camp and during a non-tackling intra-squad scrimmage, he was credited with sacking Ken Dorsey.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Jason Wright has returned from a pulled hamstring and has reestablished himself as Jamal Lewis' backup. Jerome Harrison is still making a strong push for playing time. ... Darnell Dinkins has taken advantage of a knee injury to Steve Heiden and rest given to Kellen Winslow to show he should be retained at tight end. His competition is coming from rookie Martin Rucker.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: CB Brandon McDonald -- The more McDonald practices, the fewer questions exist about his ability to establish himself as the starting right cornerback. He intercepted a pass for Braylon Edwards and broke up another pass in the same practice.
ROOKIE WATCH: LB Beau Bell is getting more comfortable in the defense. He is working alongside Leon Williams on the second team. ... TE Martin Rucker is developing good chemistry with Brady Quinn. He looks comfortable catching passes over the middle. ... NT Ahtyba Rubin is a project. He will have to get stronger to gain playing time down the road. ... WR Paul Hubbard has to become more aggressive. During the scrimmage, he stood and watched Eric Wright make an interception in front of him. He did not attempt to break up the pass. ... With LB Antwan Peek out because of a knee injury, LB Alex Hall is getting practice time on the left side. He had been working behind Kamerion Wimbley on the right side.
INJURY REPORT: RG Ryan Tucker (hip) and WR Joe Jurevicius (knee) are on PUP.
LB Antwan Peek is starting his rehab following arthroscopic knee surgery. He will miss the preseason.
TE Steve Heiden (knee), RB Lawrence Vickers (hamstring), WR Kevin Kasper (hamstring), DE Corey Williams (shoulder) and S Gary Baxter (knee) are day-to-day.
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