ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has always stood behind his players, but when police said punter Todd Sauerbrun was belligerent toward them, Shanahan drew the line.
Sauerbrun was cut this week, 10 days after police cited him for assault over an altercation with a taxi driver. Shanahan said the police account of the encounter with officers was the reason Sauerbrun was dismissed from the team.
"The bottom line was the way he treated the police officers," Shanahan said Wednesday. "Not to get into the situation that happened with the taxicab driver, but the way he talked to the officers and the way he handled that situation was very unprofessional.
"The police officers here in Denver have done an unbelievable job for us," Shanahan said. "Our working with the police has been very good. The way he handled himself that way in the situation was uncalled for. That's why he's not with us."
Efforts to reach Sauerbrun were unsuccessful, and no details were immediately available about the exchange between Sauerbrun and the arresting officers.
Sauerbrun is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 15.
Shanahan has a history of sticking up for 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 unwavering support after he passed a polygraph test and had a hair sample come back negative for marijuana.
When asked if he made Sauerbrun take a polygraph test, Shanahan said, "I said what I had to say in there [the interview room]."
Sauerbrun proclaimed his innocence last week and said he was frustrated over the assault charge.
However, Shanahan said the arrival of Prater has nothing to do with the fact that starter Jason Elam will be a free agent after the season.
"We wanted to bring him in here and see how he does," Shanahan said of Prater.
Elam isn't reading anything into the roster move. He's hoping to be back for a 16th season in Denver next year.
"I'd love to finish up as a Denver Bronco," said Elam, who became the first player in NFL history to record at least 100 points in each of his first 15 season during the Broncos' game at Houston last Thursday. "I can't imagine putting on another uniform. At the same time, that's the nature of the NFL. You can't lay down too many roots too deeply. You know you're going to rip them up. I'm going to do the very best I can for the Denver Broncos while I'm here."
Sauerbrun's release was Ernster's gain. Ernster, a seventh-round pick by Denver in 2005, was beaten out by Sauerbrun for the starting job in August, leading to his release.
Ernster was glad to be back in Denver after going through tryouts with the Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks. He was headed to Cincinnati before receiving the call from Denver.
"This is my No. 1 choice to play," said Ernster, who punted in the season opener for the Cleveland Browns before being waived. "I live in Denver and it couldn't have worked out better for me. I'm sorry they had to release Todd, but sometimes that's got to happen."
Prater and Ernster will challenge for the kickoff duties, a job that had been handled by Sauerbrun.
"I'm not exactly sure what my role will be," Prater said with a grin. "This is just a great opportunity."
For starters, Prater gets the opportunity to study under Elam.
"He's done it for so long. He knows something I don't know," said Prater, who spent the last four weeks on Miami's practice squad after Atlanta waived him in September. "I'm hoping to learn from him."
Elam's main concern right now is breaking in yet another holder on field-goal attempts. Ernster will draw the assignment with the ousting of Sauerbrun.
"Todd and I finally had developed a pretty good rhythm," said Elam, who's connect on 24-of-28 field goals this season. "I'm hoping everything will go smoothly with Paul. He's got good hands. It's not ideal, but you have to deal with things that are thrown at you."