Dave Zastudil was determined to make this season better than his last.
The pain won't let him.
Zastudil was placed on injured reserve Tuesday by the Cleveland Browns after his surgically repaired right plant leg did not respond enough to rehab and rest for him to kick this season. Zastudil missed half of 2009 with a torn patellar tendon, which was surgically repaired during the offseason.
"It's very disappointing," said Zastudil, who grew up in suburban Bay Village and played at Ohio University. "I'd give anything to be out there with the guys and play for the Browns. That's why I'm here."
Zastudil kicked on the first day of training camp but said his knee, which has been bothering him for two years, "flared up." He was on the field for a few more days in uniform before he went to Colorado to have his knee examined by noted orthopedist Dr. Richard Steadman, who performed surgery on him in early December.
However, Zastudil's knee didn't get better, and after consulting with the team and his doctor, it was decided that he would be best served not to kick this season.
"I did everything I could, the trainers did everything they could to get me back in time and I really thought I'd be ready to go," he said. "Obviously, the healing process just isn't quite finished yet. There's still some rehab I'm going to have to be doing to get this tendon right.
"It's just not quite ready to go."
Zastudil is the third player from the Cleveland area signed by the Browns as a free agent in 2006 to have a major knee injury. Center LeCharles Bentley and wide receiver Joe Jurevicius both had their careers cut short by knee injuries that worsened because of staph infections.
Browns coach Eric Mangini had held out hope Zastudil would be ready for the start of the season.
"He's worked hard," Mangini said following Tuesday's morning practice. "He's worked with his doctor and our doctor and tried a lot of different things and was not making any progress. I thought we had turned the corner and we hadn't, so this was the next step."
The loss of Zastudil is a significant blow to the rebuilding Browns, whose special teams units are among the NFL's best.
At the time he was sidelined last season, Zastudil was ranked No. 1 in the league in punts inside the 20-yard-line. He angled 25 of his 49 kicks out of bounds inside the opponents' 20, and finished sixth in the AFC in that department despite kicking in just eight games.
Zastudil was in the final year of his contract with the Browns. He hopes to punt again, but doesn't know if he'll ever strap on a plain orange helmet again.
"I'll always be a Cleveland Brown," he said. "When my career is over, I'll still be going to Cleveland Browns games. That's one of the hardest things for me, knowing that there's a chance I may not be here and how much I love the city and how much I love the fans. I'm going to do everything I can to come back and do the best I can and try to help a team somewhere."
With Zastudil done for 2010, the Browns' punting and place-holding duties will be handled by Reggie Hodges, who filled in adequately last season. Hodges averaged 39.7 yards on 67 punts for Tennessee (four games) and Cleveland. He set a career-high with 15 punts inside the 20, but can't match Zastudil's length or ability to pin the other team deep in its own territory.
Still, Mangini believes Hodges can get the job done.
"I'm comfortable with Reggie," he said. "He did a good job last year. Not only did he do a good job punting, but he did a good job as a holder, another critical job for the punter to take care of. We had him in New York as well. We've seen his development professionally. He had an extended chance to punt last year and he took advantage of it."
Notes: Rookie QB Colt McCoy returned to practice after missing one day with a sprained thumb sustained in the exhibition opener. ... Cleveland's entire right offensive line was missing — starters and backups — for the morning session. Mangini said rookie guard Shawn Lauvao has been excused for the rest of the week for personal reasons. ... LB Titus Brown and RB Chris Jennings got into a minor scuffle following a pileup. Brown swung wildly during the fracas and had to run a lap around the practice field.