In a move that suggests that standout punter Dave Zastudil has not sufficiently recovered from a back injury to kick in Sunday's season opener, the Cleveland Browns signed free agent Paul Ernster to the roster Saturday.
Zastudil, 28, suffered a mild back strain earlier in the week and was limited in practices as the Browns prepared for their matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Zastudil remained optimistic he would be able to face the Browns' archrivals, but the addition of Ernster may be an indication that he still needs more recovery time.
Coach Romeo Crennel said that he would wait until the last minute to make a determination on Zastudil's status. The Browns signed Ernster, one of five free agent punters who worked out for coaches and team officials this week, before the Saturday deadline for adding players and having them eligible for Sunday's game.
A five-year veteran, Zastudil is coming off his best season, and enjoyed a strong training camp and preseason. The former University of Ohio standout established new career bests for gross average (44.0 yards) and net average (38.4 yards) in 2006.
His net average ranked as the sixth-best in the league last season, and Zastudil also had 28 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
For his career, Zastudil has a gross average of 42.1 yards and a net average of 37.6 yards. He has 117 punts inside the 20-yard line and only 39 touchbacks. Zastudil spent the first four seasons of his career with the Baltimore Ravens before signing with the Browns in 2006 as an unrestricted free agent.
Ernster, 25, was a seventh-round choice of the Denver Broncos in 2005. He appeared in one game as a rookie, then in all 16 games in 2006, posting a 41.7-yard gross average and a net average of 36.6 yards. He also handled the kickoff chores for the Broncos and demonstrated his leg strength by notching 19 touchbacks.
A former Northern Arizona standout, Ernster lost his job in Denver when the Broncos signed three-time Pro Bowl punter Todd Sauerbrun as an unrestricted free agent this spring. He was waived in the final roster cutdown to the 53-player limit.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com