DENVER — You’re not allowed to throw out the records in football. If you were, Dave Zastudil’s first year as a Cleveland Brown would’ve been perfect.
Not only did the Bay High School graduate return home, he had his best punting year in five seasons as a professional.
“It was great, besides being 4-12,” he said Thursday as training camp closed. “Being home, being comfortable here, being back with family, being around a lot of great players and the coaches we had. It was great.
“I really think we’re building something here. I think it’s going to take some time, but I definitely think we’re headed in a really good direction.”
If all the Browns were as effective as Zastudil, the team would be a lot closer to the playoffs. After signing a five-year contract to leave Baltimore for Cleveland, Zastudil had a career year. He was sixth in the NFL with a career-high 38.4-yard net, 2.7 yards better than his previous best. He also had a career-high 44.0 gross, and 28 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
“I thought it was probably my best year as a pro,” he said. “Only because I was on a new team, and they were the best numbers I’ve ever had.
“I thought I had a good year, but I still think I can do better. I don’t see any reason why I can’t have a better year this year.”
Coming home doesn’t always live up to the idealistic picture. Family can be a hassle, and fringe friends think they’re entitled to your time.
Zastudil had no such complaints.
“It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be,” he said. “Everybody has been real respectful and supportive. They’re not coming up to me all the time, knowing it’s a stressful job and the season’s a long season.
“They kind of let me be, and the support I’ve gotten has just been unbelievable.”
Zastudil’s roots give him a deep understanding of what it’s like to suffer as a Cleveland fan. They also give him some extra motivation.
“I’m from here, I like to see the Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Cavs, Cleveland Indians all win,” he said. “When we lose, it kinda sucks.
“You hate losing because you’re from here, it’s your own team and you know your family and friends all hate it because they live here. That kinda gets you fired up a little bit. I just hope I can do my part for the team.”
Tight end Kellen Winslow didn’t start and was replaced by Steve Heiden. General manager Phil Savage termed it a “coach’s decision” and said Romeo Crennel would address the situation after the game.
Winslow went through warmups, but spent the first quarter standing on the sideline, likely for a disciplinary reason. He returned for the second snap of the second quarter and was immediately called for a false start on fourth-and-1, which forced a punt.
Ryan Krause, battling Darnell Dinkins for the third-tight end spot, was used as the second tight end in Winslow’s absence.
Savage updated some injuries in a brief interview.
• Cornerback Gary Baxter, who tore both patellar tendons last year and recently experienced soreness after a couple of weeks of limited practice, will return to practice Monday and be worked more extensively. Savage said a decision will be made on Baxter’s roster status at the end of the week. He must start the year on the active roster, be placed on season-ending injured reserve or be released.
• Center LeCharles Bentley (torn patellar tendon) has been rehabbing with the team the last week-to-10 days and will do so for the rest of the week. The Browns will then decide if he should start the season on the physically unable to perform list, be placed on injured reserve or be activated. He has yet to practice with the team.
• Linebacker Andra Davis (sprained ankle) will do some work at practice this week but will not play in the preseason finale Thursday in Chicago. Davis hopes to return for the opener Sept. 9 vs. Pittsburgh.
• Guard Eric Steinbach (sprained knee) is still on schedule to return for the opener. He hasn’t played in a preseason game.
Starting right tackle Kevin Shaffer left the game with a concussion and didn’t return. The last play of the first quarter was a run behind Shaffer and he lost his helmet. He was dazed and a little wobbly walking off the field.
Shaffer was replaced by Ryan Tucker, who will begin the season serving a four-game steroids suspension. Kelly Butler is listed second on the depth chart.
The first roster cuts, down to 75, are Tuesday. The final cut to 53 is Saturday.
• Tim Carter was the third receiver in his first preseason action. He had been slowed by hamstring and thumb injuries.
• Rookie free agent Charles Ali got the start at fullback for Lawrence Vickers, who’s out with a hamstring injury.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7136