GLENDALE, Ariz. – When Arizona Cardinals punter Dave Zastudil was placed on injured reserve with a lingering groin injury last October, coach Bruce Arians told the veteran he needed to teach his replacement, Drew Butler, how to down his punts inside the 10.
Hopefully Zastudil didn’t hand over too many trade secrets, or he might have given away his job.
The two are now in a neck-and-neck battle to be Arizona's punter. Arians said Thursday the competition is "pretty even." They’ll alternate punting in preseason games. Zastudil is up first Saturday in Arizona’s preseason opener against Kansas City.
"Having seen them both for a season, it's just who kicks it the best and (is) the most consistent," Arians said.
Zastudil has age (36 to 26) and experience (14 to four) on Butler. But after playing in just two games last season -- including kicking in just one -- he's trying to gain the upper hand during training camp. Zastudil suffered the initial groin injury the week before Arizona's season opener last season on "Monday Night Football" and was just the holder that game. Butler replaced him in the lineup but Zastudil returned for the Denver game in Week 5, after which he was placed on injured reserve.
Even though his groin has fully recovered, Zastudil has been experiencing stiffness and tightness but said that's typical during training camp. While, in an ideal situation, Zastudil would prefer to take his return to the field slow, he can't. Not when his job is on the line.
Zastudil has a resume that includes a career average of 43.7 yards per kick and just three blocked punts in 12 seasons. In 2012, he set the NFL record with 46 punts downed inside the 20-yard-line.
While the two have alternated kicking during camp -- on the days they don't kick, they hold -- Zastudil has been more strategic with his reps this camp. Special teams coach Amos Jones has allowed him to get the necessary amount of punts in to complete his daily work load instead of just kicking for quantity.
"I think the big difference as you get older in general and you’ve been doing this quite a while, is you just have to go on your own pace," Zastudil said. "You know how many reps you need. You know how to build up through camp to make yourself get to the point where you are.
"Most camps before you use all preseason to really get ready for that first game because that's most important. Typically, when you're in some kind of competition, you have to move a little forward. You have to fast forward your pace on getting ready."
When Zastudil returned from his injury this spring and Butler was still on the roster, Zastudil knew what was awaiting him in training camp. He's embraced the battle with Butler instead of lamenting it.
He's been around the league long enough to know he can't lament.
Even if Butler doesn't outperform Zastudil, he knows there might be another punter on another team who can. He's changed his approach this season to prevent that from happening.
"I try to prepare myself and do little things and get ready for the practice and the games maybe a little differently than I did before the injury," he said. "I guess you can call it maintenance work."
Zastudil can see the end of his career somewhere on the Arizona horizon.
He knows it'll eventually come, but he doesn't want to walk away from football knowing he didn't give this battle -- which could be his last -- against Butler his best shot.
"I'm trying to just enjoy football because the last thing you want to do is go in a competition and look back and say what you did right or wrong," Zastudil said. "I'm embracing the competition. I'm working really hard. And like they say, let the best man win."