NFL kickers and punters are creatures of habit. Their practice schedule is different from the other players on the roster, and most have a particular regimen and preparation schedule they adhere to.
Like a pitcher in spring training with his arm, kickers slowly build their legs up this time of year, so they're reaching 100 percent efficiency right around the start of the regular season.
Lions place kicker Matt Prater has an offseason regimen that's worked pretty well for him over a 12-year career that's seen him make two Pro Bowls, an All-Pro team and convert 246 field goals and counting.
But like most players, Prater is always trying to find ways to get better.
"You're always trying to improve and learn from mistakes in the past," Prater said after Wednesday's practice. "I always watch all the tape from the season before and try to pick out one thing I can improve on and if it eliminates one or two misses it improves my upcoming season a lot more."
Prater focused on his flexibility this offseason, and worked to improve it by starting a Pilates routine.
Prater, punter Sam Martin and long snapper Don Muhlbach have all incorporated Pilates into their workouts. Prater said he drives to a Pilates studio in Ferndale four times a week for the workouts. He's noticed a big difference in his flexibility since starting.
"I've been feeling really good doing that," he said. "I feel different muscles I didn't even know I had. I think a lot of guys are kind of getting into it. If it can help, awesome."
Prater says he's seeing direct results of his gained flexibility translate to the football field, and is looking forward to the preseason to get into game situations and see it live.
He's coming off a 2017 season where he recorded 130 points. He became just the second player in franchise history (Jason Hanson) to reach that mark. It's the third time Prater's reached 130 points in a season in his career (133 in 2012 and 150 in 2013).
Prater is the first player in Lions history to make at least 30 field goals in back-to-back seasons (2016 & 2017).
New Lions head coach Matt Patricia has been pretty spoiled in the kicker department since joining the NFL as an assistant coach with the Patriots in 2004. First it was Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski in New England, and now Prater with the Lions.
"Fundamental philosophy is you can't really be good on special teams unless your specialists are good," Patricia said. "And we have three outstanding specialists and that's from all avenues. Truly professional guys, guys that really understand their body.
"Mentioning some of those names that you did (Adam Vinatieri, Stephen Gostkowski), those are some of the biggest plays in the history of the games that I've been involved with is that last play. And you're relying on entire seasons to come down to that one play and all the pressure that comes along with it."
Patricia emphasizes the importance of special teams a lot, and has changed a little bit of the practice schedule as it pertains to those units. There's a lot of special teams work through the course of a two and a half hour training camp practice.
"I would say probably a little bit of a different sort of practice than they've been used to, where maybe they can just get warmed up and kind of get their kicks, but now trying to work the transition part of it into practice more like a game, where now they have to go out and execute," Patricia said. "Hopefully, we're kind of simulating some of that one play pressure that we get. But, they've done a great job, those guys have been awesome."
One of the more clutch kickers in the game, Prater's accumulated 14 career game-winning field goals with less than two minutes to play in the fourth quarter or overtime. Overall, he's now made 20 of those game-winning or game-tying kicks with under four minutes to play in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Prater doesn't show any signs of slowing down, and is actually hoping his added flexibility makes him even better than ever.