MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: Prater comfortable with his offseason routine

Posted Jun 19, 2017

Preparing for his 11th pro season and fourth with the Lions, Kicker Matt Prater is comfortable with his offseason routine.

Matt Prater can’t complain about the way his career has gone in his three seasons with the Detroit Lions.

That includes times when he’s having trouble kicking field goals.

One of those times was at the start of last week’s minicamp, but that was to be expected in the routine Prater has developed to be grooved and at peak performance when the regular season starts.

“It’s fundamentals and back to basics this time of year, when you focus on technique and the basics,” Prater said during last week’s camp. “When training camp and the season starts, you aren’t thinking about it as much.”

Preparing for his 11th pro season and fourth with the Lions, Prater is comfortable with his offseason routine.

In the three-day minicamp, he made the transition from what he calls “kicking off the sticks” to kicking with snapper and holder. The “sticks” is a devise that holds the ball and allows Prater to kick without a holder.

“It’s different wearing a helmet and what not,” Prater said. “Instead of kicking off the sticks, with the snap, hold and kicking the timing and rhythm and all that good stuff gets going again. Slowly and surely, it comes around.”

Kickers are like golfers. What works for one might not work for all. Head coach Jim Caldwell gives a veteran kicker such as Prater leeway to develop his routine within the framework of practice for the full team and special teams.

“In regards to routine, it kind of depends on the age of the guy,” Caldwell said. “If he’s young, we kind of regimen him a little bit more. We might give them a little bit more guidance, if they’re younger.

“Guys that are older and have been in this league a while like Matt, who has a routine, there are some things that we will adjust according to how he likes to do them.”

Prater is coming off a magical 2016 season. His clutch field goals and long-range accuracy – making all seven attempts from 50 yards and longer – earned him the second Pro Bowl appearance of his career.

Prater also made the Pro Bowl in 2013, his last season with the Denver Broncos and the year before he signed with the Lions.

The Matt and Matt combination – quarterback Matthew Stafford and Prater – led eight comeback victories in a 9-7 record that gave the Lions a Wild Card berth in the NFC playoffs.

It started in Game 1, when Stafford led a last-minute drive that Prater finished off with a 43-yard field goal with four seconds left in a 39-35 road win over the Colts. The Lions added a safety as time ran out to account for the final four-point margin.

Prater made game-winning field goals against the Eagles and Rams in back-to-back games in Weeks 5-6.

Twice in victories over the Vikings he made field goals as time expired.

The first was in a road game Week 9. Prater’s 58-yard field goal as time expired tied the game at 16-16. The Lions won it on the first possession of overtime on Stafford’s touchdown pass to Golden Tate.

The Lions and Vikings met again three weeks later at Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day. Prater’s 48-yard field goal with 1:45 left made it 13-13. A 40-yard field goal as time ran out gave the Lions a 16-13 win.

There is a risk-reward factor in going for long field goals. The reward is obvious – points. But the risk is giving up field position with a miss. For example, a miss from 50 yards gives the ball to the opponent at the 40 yard line.

Prater has allowed Caldwell to be aggressive in his three seasons as head coach of the Lions.

The Lions had severe kicking problems at the start of the 2014 season, Caldwell’s first in Detroit. In a Game 5 loss to the Bills, Alex Henery missed all three attempts – from 44, 47 and 50 yards. The third miss put the Bills in position to win the game with a 58-yard field goal as time expired.

Prater was signed as a free agent the next week. After a slow start, his ability to kick under pressure – and from long range – has made him a weapon.

“Once he came here, obviously we looked at things a little bit differently in regard to him,” Caldwell said. “He is one of those guys that can certainly make a difference in the game from a lengthy distance.”