BEREA—Even though this is the final position preview prior to Saturday's opening of training camp, it is definitely not the least important.
At least in the recent history of the Browns, the special teams have produced some of the Browns' best plays.
Phil Dawson is the only kicker in the Browns' history as an expansion team. He is 229-of-275 in his career in field goal percentage with a 83.3 accuracy. His career long is 56 yards and he has 966 career points. Dawson has been one of the few positions the team has had to worry about over the past decade. Dawson has been a co-captain and leader of the team and has shown no signs of slowing down at the age of 35.
Dave Zastudil has punted 581 times in his career for 24,825 yards for a career average of 42.7. He has 179 career punts inside the 20 with a career long of 67 yards. Reggie Hodges was brought in when Zastudil was injured and will start training camp with the Browns. He could be a quick casualty if the Browns need a roster spot for a position player.
Ryan Pontbriand has proven to have been one of the best draft choices of the Butch Davis era. There was some snickering when the Browns used a draft choice on a long snapper, but he has been to the Pro Bowl at his position.
Here are the candidates for the specialist positions:
Phil Dawson (5-11, 200) – The 12-year veteran from Texas is the only player who was with the Browns in the 1999 expansion year. Dawson led the Browns in scoring after converting 17-of-19 field goals and 18-of-19 PATs. Dawson missed five games with a calf injury.
Dave Zastudil (6-3, 220) – Zastudil is beginning his ninth NFL season and fifth with the Browns after coming over as an unrestricted free agent from the Ravens. The Bay Village and Ohio University product missed eight games last season with a knee injury. Zastudil averaged 44.7 yards per punt with 25 punts inside the 20 before going on injured reserve.
Reggie Hodges (6-0, 200) – Hodges joined the Browns when Zastudil was hurt and starts training camp battling Zastudil. Hodges averaged 39.8 with 15 punts inside the 20. Hodges has played with the Rams, Eagles, Jets, Titans and Browns in his first three years in the NFL with a career average of 40.1.
Ryan Pontbriand (6-2, 255) – Pontbriand is entering his eighth season with the Browns after being drafted in the fifth-round. He has been one of the most consistent long snappers in the NFL and has been to the Pro Bowl.
Barring an unexpected injury, Dawson, Zastudil and Pontrbriand will be the trio once again at the specialist position.