DENVER -- The Denver Broncos released beleaguered punter Todd Sauerbrun on Tuesday, bringing in his training camp rival Paul Ernster to replace him.
The team also placed safety Nick Ferguson on injured reserve with a right knee injury and waived safety Marviel Underwood, opening up a spot to promote safety Roderick Rogers to the roster off the practice squad.
The Broncos declined comment about the release of Sauerbrun. On Wednesday, the team signed rookie kicker Matt Prater to its active roster from Miami's practice squad. Prater, who spent the last four weeks on the Dolphins' practice squad after he was waived by Atlanta on Sept. 18, played in two games for the Falcons this season and was 1-for-4 on field goal attempts.
Sauerbrun's problems off the field likely contributed to the team's decision. Sauerbrun faces legal trouble stemming from an incident outside a restaurant in early December. He's scheduled to appear in court Jan. 15 on an assault charge.
Sauerbrun was also waived by Denver last season following his suspension for the first month for using a banned dietary supplement. Upon his reinstatement, the Broncos and Sauerbrun went separate ways, and he signed with New England.
The 38-year-old Sauerbrun returned to Denver on a one-year, $1.4 million contract after being granted his release from the Patriots last spring.
Sauerbrun was averaging 46.8 yards a punt this season, with a net average of 36.1.
The Broncos have struggled on special teams under Scott O'Brien, who was brought in this year to revamp the unit.
Ernster, a seventh-round pick by Denver in 2005, was beaten out by Sauerbrun for the starting job in August. He punted in the season opener for the Cleveland Browns before being waived.
Sauerbrun lost his starting spot to Ernster last season while serving his suspension for using ephedra in an attempt to lose weight and gain extra energy for his workouts.
After rejoining the Broncos in April, Sauerbrun vowed to repay coach Mike Shanahan for giving him another chance, just like Shanahan did in 2005 after Carolina gave up on Sauerbrun following a series of distractions, including a drunken driving arrest.
Shanahan said earlier that Sauerbrun will pay the price if he's found guilty. However, the Broncos coach noted he should be afforded due process before any speculation is made about his future in Denver.
Shanahan has a history of backing his players. He defended running back Travis Henry earlier this season when he fought the NFL over a failed drug test.
Henry, who won his appeal of a one-year suspension, earned Shanahan's full support after he passed a polygraph test and had a hair sample come back negative for marijuana.
Sauerbrun proclaimed his innocence last week, and said he was frustrated over the assault charge stemming from an altercation with a taxi driver outside a restaurant.
"It's a false allegation and the truth will come out," Sauerbrun said. "It's a completely overblown issue."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press