Punter Dan Sepulveda knew something was wrong during warmups the first day of training camp. Yesterday his worst fears became reality when he was told he had re-tore his right ACL. The Pittsburgh Steelers expect to lose him for the rest of the season.
To replace Sepulveda, the Steelers claimed Paul Ernster off waivers from the Detroit Lions. Ernster punted 80 times for the Denver Broncos in 2006. He averaged 41.7 yards per punt. He was also Denver's kickoff specialist in 2006, having 19 of his 75 kickoffs go for touchbacks.
Ernster appeared in one game each for Cleveland in 2007 – against the Steelers – punting seven times for an average of 36.6 yards with one kick inside the 20.
Sepulveda, last year’s Steelers Rookie of the Year, tried to keep a stiff upper lip after receiving the bad news.
“Kind of had a little bump in the road,” he said. “My knee’s been shaky for a while now, but the MRI has always said it’s good. Today, the MRI wasn’t good.”
Sepulveda, a left-footed kicker, tore the ACL in his right knee in April of 2006, but came back in time to play his senior season. The Steelers traded a sixth-round draft pick to move up in the fourth round to draft in April of 2007, and Sepulveda responded with a 44.3 average (36.5 net). He also set an unofficial team record (data since 1976 only) with 28 punts downed inside the 20 and only two touchbacks. But he never really recovered from the initial injury.
“The MRI’s always said the ACL’s been good, but it’s always had a little bit more glide than it probably should,” Sepulveda said. “It was nothing that was ever too much of a concern to let me play or anything like that, but it’s been like that for a while. Gosh, it wasn’t too long after I got it initially fixed that it was like that.”
Did he perhaps rush his recovery before his senior season?
“Well, I don’t like to second-guess the decisions that I make,” he said. “God gave me a peace about that one and it ended out working out pretty good, obviously; suffer maybe some consequences for the decision I made back then, but I’m going to be responsible for that and I’m going to be professional going forward.”
Sepulveda said his plant leg “kind of shook on me a little bit” on Monday and as a precaution he got it checked out and received the bad news.
“It’s part of football,” said Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin. “It’s what this game’s about and we have to move forward.”
Was the news deflating for Tomlin?
“Briefly,” he said. “And then you keep moving. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t say I wasn’t disappointed for us and for Daniel. But you can’t spend a lot of time dwelling on it from that standpoint. We’ve got work to do.”
Ernster could also replace Sepulveda as the Steelers’ holder. Charlie Batch assumed those duties Tuesday.
To make room for Ernster on the roster, the Steelers released rookie wide receiver Kevin Marion.