Steelers' Sepulveda tears ACL, expected to miss season

LATROBE, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Steelers punter Daniel Sepulveda tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee for the second time in three years and is expected to miss the season, a major loss for the defending AFC Central champions.

2007 statistics
Punts: 68

Avg: 42.4

Long: 59

Sepulveda's injury occurred during the first day of practice Monday. The Steelers used undrafted rookie kicker Julian Rauch of Appalachian State as their practice punter Tuesday, but claimed former Broncos punter Paul Ernster on waivers from Detroit later in the day.

"I wouldn't be human if I didn't say I wasn't disappointed for us and for Daniel, but we can't spend a lot of time dwelling on it from that standpoint, we've got work to do here," coach Mike Tomlin said.

The Steelers traded a sixth-round draft pick last year to move up in the fourth round and draft Sepulveda, a former Baylor star who is the only two-time winner of the Ray Guy award as the nation's top college punter. The Steelers had drafted only one other punter in their history.

Sepulveda averaged 42.4 yards and placed 28 of 68 punts inside the 20 as a rookie last season, so the Steelers didn't bother bringing a second punter to camp as they often did under former coach Bill Cowher.

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Sepulveda is expected to have surgery in the next few days. He first tore the ligament while playing pickup basketball at Baylor in April 2006, but returned -- too early as far as his doctors were concerned -- to punt in the school's season opener that September.

Even if Sepulveda were to make such a fast recovery this time, he probably couldn't return any earlier than the postseason, and it seems likely the Steelers will place him on the injured reserved list.

Sepulveda knew immediately Monday something was wrong.

"I don't know what's going on in there, I'm not a doctor, but it didn't feel right," he said.

According to Tomlin, Sepulveda "experienced some discomfort, to say the least."

The 26-year-old Ernster, from Northern Arizona, was drafted in the seventh round by Denver in 2006 and averaged 41.7 yards that season on 80 punts, with 19 touchbacks on kickoffs. He played in one game each with the Broncos and Browns last season, averaging 36.2 yards on 12 punts.

"He's a veteran guy who's been in the league," director of football operations Kevin Colbert said.

Ernster filled in for an injured Dave Zastudil in the Browns' season-opening loss to the Steelers, averaging 36.6 yards on seven punts. He mishandled the first snap and shanked a 15-yarder punt on a play in which the Browns were called for four penalties.

Ernster also appeared in a game for Denver last season, averaging 35.6 yards on five punts against San Diego, after being waived by the Broncos late in training camp.

Tomlin hasn't ruled out bringing in a second punter.

"We're paid to be light on our feet, and react in this business, and that's what we'll do," Tomlin said.

Notes: DB Troy Polamalu (hamstring) didn't wear a protective wrap but was again held out of practice. ... WR Limas Sweed stood out in coverage drills during a morning special teams practice. ... With Sepulveda out, backup QB Charlie Batch filled in as K Jeff Reed's holder. ... Tomlin on dealing with injuries: "The teams that rise in the end are the teams that are capable of dealing with distractions and things like this."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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