Special teams, the one and only place where the Browns have a decided edge over the Baltimore Ravens in Monday night’s game at Cleveland Browns Stadium, might not be quite so special by kickoff.
Dave Zastudil, the Browns’ all-time leading punter who is off to another great start this year with a 44.7 average and an NFL-best 25 boots inside the opponents’ 20, appeared on Friday’s injury list for the first time with a problem with his right -- non-kicking – knee. He was among the nine Browns who were limited in practice, and was seen briefly in the locker room during the media availability period with a wrap around the knee.
Leaving nothing to chance, the Browns were working out punters following practice.
The last time they did something like this, it wasn’t good. Just days before the first game with the Ravens, a 34-3 loss on Sept. 27 in Baltimore, they worked out kickers when Phil Dawson injured the calf on his right – kicking – leg. He ended up missing the next five weeks.
Zastudil, who is also the holder for Dawson on field-goal tries, has battled some soreness in his knee this year but has not missed any time since he sat out four of the first five games in 2007 due to a back problem.
In addition to Zastudil, tight end Steve Heiden also showed up on the injury report on Friday with a knee problem and was limited in practice. He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament late last season and may have tried to come back too quickly. He was bothered by it during training camp and missed two games this year.
Along with being a sure-handed receiver in the short routes, Heiden is also a key blocker in the running game.
The Browns are already without their two starting linebackers in Eric Barton and D’Qwell Jackson, both of whom are out for the year with neck and shoulder injuries, respectively, causing all kinds of position shifting among the linebackers.
To have even a chance of defeating the 4-4 Ravens, the 1-7 Browns, who have lost three straight, need to have as many of their core players healthy as possible. So stay tuned.
MORE ABOUT SPECIAL TEAMS: Dawson, who is the last player left in the NFL from the 1999 expansion Browns, said it will be “very different” not to see Matt Stover on the Ravens sideline for the first time in his career. Stover, who began his 19-year career by playing five seasons (1991-95) with the Browns, was not retained by the original Browns franchise, the Ravens, in the offseason. He is now kicking for Baltimore’s former NFL team, the undefeated Indianapolis Colts.
Though Stover is seven years older than the 34-year-old Dawson, they both attended the same high school, Lake Highlands in Dallas. Stover lived across the street from Dawson’s best friend, and when Dawson began his kicking career in junior high, Stover, who was then at Louisiana Tech, would help him out with some pointers when he returned home.
“I learned so much from him during those times,” said Dawson, No. 7 on the NFL’s all-time accuracy list for field goals. “I hold Matt in the highest regard. The fact that two guys from the same high school made it to the NFL at the same position, and played against each other for 10 straight years, is pretty special. I don’t know of any other two players in the league like that.”
But Jerry Rosburg is still with the Ravens, in his second season as their special teams coordinator after holding the same position for six years with the Browns. “I’ll go over and give him a big hug before the game,” Dawson said. “I made such significant strides under him. He’s a big reason why I made it in this league. But he’s such a humble guy that he probably doesn’t even realize it.”
In addition, Ravens assistant special teams coach Marwan Maalouf spent three seasons with the Browns as a quality control coach, working with the special teams in his final season of 2006. Dawson said he will also seek out Maalouf to greet him. Dawson and the Browns are hoping that Zastudil, who came to the Browns in 2006 after playing his first four seasons with the Ravens, is there to chat with Rosburg and Maalouf, too – in full uniform, ready to play.
NOT A SHOCK: After meeting with Browns head coach Eric Mangini and probably being scolded for his remarks on Thursday that the team practices too long and hard, running back Jamal Lewis did like many players do and blamed the media. He said reporters blew his comments out of proportion. Uh, OK, if you say so.
QUOTABLES: “He’s really excited about another opportunity here, and so am I.” – Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll on quarterback Brady Quinn, who started the first three games before getting benched, returning to the lineup against the Ravens.
“That’s a great question. He’s a really good guy, he really is. He’s smart. He’s funny. The guy is just going to do whatever he can do to win, that he thinks can help us win, whatever it may be. I don’t know that answer, because he’s a good friend. I think he’s a very good coach. He’s trying to do all he can, trust me, he is. He’s busting his tail.” – Daboll on why Mangini seems to be such a target for sharp criticism.
“You watch the tape a little bit, sometime you rewind it, look at the clicker and go, ‘Dang, these guys are going pretty fast right here.’ They’re flying to the football. It looks like the same Ravens defense when I played them in New England to now. Good players, good scheme, play fast, play hard, hit, run, get turnovers. They’re good.” – Daboll on the Baltimore defense.