So far, Broncos bring in no challenge at kicker
AP Sports Writer
Denver, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado ” Although the Denver Broncos are keen on competition, they’ve invited in no one to challenge kicker Matt Prater, who faded down the stretch last year and went into the offseason wondering about his job security.
Vote of confidence?
He’s certainly hoping so.
“It’s kind of flattering,” Prater said. “That means a lot.”
Prater started off solid last season in his first full-time gig, only to lose the pop in his powerful right foot midway through the year.
For that, he blames fatigue. His plan this season is to kick less in practice so that his leg stays fresh.
“If I have a bad day, instead of going out and kicking a bunch more, just try to get it back the next day,” Prater said Tuesday as the team returned to Dove Valley for the start of passing camp. “Hopefully I can peak at the end of the year instead of fade off.”
Prater had big cleats to fill in 2008 as he replaced Jason Elam, a longtime fan favorite who bolted for Atlanta.
Early on, the Broncos weren’t missing Elam since Prater wasn’t missing many kicks. He began the year very Elam-like, hitting 14 of 15 field goals, including five from 50 yards and beyond.
Then his leg tired and he tailed off. He finished the season just 11-of-19 on field goal attempts and didn’t make one from longer than 44 yards after Nov. 23.
“With a kicker the big thing is confidence,” Prater said. “If you lose a little confidence, you starting thinking too much and trying to tweak different things.”
Before departing for the offseason, Prater compiled footage of all his kicks. He wanted to pinpoint why he was so good from 50 or longer (5-of-6) and so erratic in the 40-49 yard range (5-of-11).
Prater detected no glaring flaws.
“It looked about the same. I think I was just really fatigued ” with the kickoffs and field goals,” said Prater, who was fifth in the league with 19 touchbacks. “It’s just a big learning experience.”
This season, he will be working with a new special teams coordinator as new head coach Josh McDaniels brought in Mike Priefer to replace Scott O’Brien. Already Prater feels a connection with Priefer.
“He’s really big on positive reinforcement,” Prater said. “He focuses more on the good kicks than say if you go out and miss one. He just says, ‘All right, what happened?’ You learn from it. That’s his biggest thing.”
Priefer also is slightly altering Prater’s kicking mechanics, preferring him to step into the ball more.
“It keeps me a little bit more smooth,” Prater said.
So far, it’s working.
On Tuesday, Prater said he drilled a 62-yard field goal in damp conditions and with the wind swirling. It was one of many long kicks.
“It went really well,” he said. “I got my confidence back.”
As for his new long snapper, Lonie Paxton, Prater’s already singing his praises. Paxton was lured away from New England with a five-year deal worth around $5.3 million, taking the spot of Mike Leach.
“He’s really good,” Prater said of Paxton. “You can see why they gave him the big bucks. He’s legit.”
What exactly makes a long snapper so special?
“Consistency,” Prater said. “Every field-goal snap he snaps makes the holder’s job easier and makes it easier for me. I don’t want to jinx him ” I should knock on wood ” but coach McDaniels said he hasn’t had a bad snap in nine years.”
As for being the lone field-goal kicker on the roster, Prater is a bit surprised. But he still feels like there’s nothing guaranteed.
“I’m still competing with all the other guys that are out there,” Prater said. “As long as I’m doing what I’ve been doing, I’m pretty confident I’ll keep the job.”
When Flacco drops back to pass, he earns respect without uttering a word, by displaying a gift that’s rare, even at the NFL level.