DENVER (Oct. 10, 2006) -- Todd Sauerbrun might have taught Paul Ernster a little too well.
The Denver Broncos cut the veteran punter the day he was supposed to come back from a four-game suspension for using the banned dietary supplement ephedra.
The Broncos confirmed his release in a two-sentence press release, but team officials didn't respond to requests for more comments.
Sauerbrun, a 12-year veteran, gave pointers to Ernster during the offseason and even pumped him up after Ernster had knee surgery last season.
But Ernster kicked well in Sauerbrun's absence and earned the starting job. Ernster, a seventh-round pick in 2005 out of Northern Arizona, averaged 44.2 yards a punt in four games.
"That's the kind of guy Todd is," Sauerbrun's agent, David Canter, said of mentoring Ernster. "He doesn't regret it. Paul did a great job."
Money likely played a factor in the Broncos' decision to keep Ernster over Sauerbrun, who wasn't allowed to be around the team during the suspension. Ernster has two years left on his salary at the league minimum.
The Broncos also couldn't afford to take the chance of another mistake by Sauerbrun, which would've resulted in a season-ending suspension.
Canter said the final decision had nothing to do with what Sauerbrun did on the field.
"If it had to do with winning football games, they would've kept him on the roster," Canter said. "He's one of the best. He's disappointed. He feels he could've been a catalyst on the team."
Sauerbrun said after testing positive for the supplement that he knowingly took an over-the-counter weight loss product this summer that he strongly suspected contained ephedra, which the NFL banned after the death of Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer during training camp in 2001. Players are randomly tested and can be suspended after the first violation.
Sauerbrun came over from Carolina last season and averaged 43.8 yards, won a player of the week award and even forced a fumble with a tackle against New England. After learning of his suspension right before training camp began in July, he said he felt foolish about taking the supplement in what he described as a misguided attempt to lose weight and gain gusto for his workouts.
At the time, coach Mike Shanahan said he was disappointed.
"He's the only guy on the team which I don't care if he's fat. I don't care if he's 30 pounds overweight," he said. "All you've got to do is punt the ball."
Ernster consistently has been solid through four games this season. He also had seven kicks stop inside the 20-yard line, including three against Baltimore on Oct. 9. Ernster has handled kickoffs as well, with four of his 14 kicks resulting in touchbacks.
"He's very grateful for the opportunity the Broncos have given him," said Ernster's agent, Brett Tessler. "He won the job the old-fashioned way -- he earned it. His performance is even more impressive with a Pro Bowl punter looming over your shoulder in the event you don't do well. You only have a certain amount of time to make a good impression and he did everything he had to do."
Ernster tore the ACL in his kicking leg last September and was fearful his career might be in jeopardy. Sauerbrun, who tore the ACL in his plant leg in 1998 with Chicago, gave him words of encouragement.
Before leaving the team this summer, Sauerbrun talked about coming back as an even better punter and wasn't concerned with losing his job.
"When I come back, I'll be head and shoulders above," Sauerbrun said. "If (Shanahan) cut me tomorrow, I'd say, 'I must have really screwed up; that's the best coach I've ever been around in my whole life.' I'd like to stay here as long as Shanahan's here."
But it didn't play out that way.
After Denver's 13-3 victory against Baltimore, kicker Jason Elam said he's glad he didn't have to make the decision.
"It's a tough one because Todd's a great punter. God designed him to be a punter; he's that good," Elam said. "Paul made a heck of a case for getting the job. He's kicked unbelievably well. I feel bad for whoever's not going to be here."
Ernster said he felt good about his final audition against the Ravens. He felt he did everything to win the punting spot. Ernster kicked four times against Baltimore for a 42.3-yard average in poor weather.
"If it doesn't work out, I can go out knowing I gave it my best shot and worked as hard as I can," Ernster said.
Asked after the game if he thought he still would be on the team Oct. 15 against Oakland, Ernster grinned.
"I'm an optimist," he said.
He was right.
The Associated Press News Service
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