Some kickers using narrower goal posts at practice

The Arena Football League is gone, leaving a smattering of

players good enough for the NFL – and one quiet legacy that plays

itself out every week in stadiums across the country.

A league-wide survey by The Associated Press found that a dozen

NFL kickers use the narrower goal posts like those from the old

indoor league to practice their craft during the week so that when

game day comes, the uprights seem so much wider.

It’s a tactic coach Josh McDaniels and long snapper Lonie Paxton

brought with them from New England to Denver and a trick Broncos

kicker Matt Prater credits for his bounce-back season after fading

down the stretch a year ago.

“I definitely wish I would have done it earlier,” said Prater,

who missed eight of his final 20 field goal attempts last year but

is 29-for-34 this season.

Prater practices on the 8 1/2-foot uprights, which are 10 feet

narrower than the regulation posts, the same width as the NFL hash

marks.

“Kicking on the skinny uprights for so long, when I got back to

the regular ones, my lineup just looks a lot wider, so I’m more

confident when I kick,” Prater said.

Lions kicker Jason Hanson isn’t among his contemporaries who use

the narrower posts.

But …

“Maybe I should do it because he’s having a great year,”

Hanson said.

Prater wasn’t sold on them right away.

“At first, I’d line up and the farther back I went, they looked

like toothpicks,” Prater said.

He quickly became a huge fan, though.

“You’ve got to hit it perfect because if you’re off by a little

bit, it might go through the regular uprights but on those it looks

like it’s way off,” Prater said. “So, it’s good practice. It’s

good for visualization. You carry that over into a game.”

Nate Kaeding of the San Diego Chargers, the AFC’s leading kicker

with 135 points, is a big believer in the skinny posts.

“Yeah, we do it every day. I don’t look at the big uprights

until Sunday,” Kaeding said. “I’ve been doing it since freshman

year in college. It helps. It’s kind of a mental trick, you know,

if you can kick them through the small ones you can definitely kick

them through the big ones.”

Garrett Hartley is glad the goal posts from the New Orleans

Voodoo arena league team are at the Saints’ practice headquarters.

He said using them “dramatically helped my ball flight, just

kicking it straight, good height, rotation.”

“Plus it makes it more challenging. I enjoy that,” Hartley

said. “As long as you’re getting straight ball flight, the middle

is the middle, whatever way you look at it. … It just challenges

you in different ways, makes it fun.”

The Jaguars, Titans, Browns, Buccaneers, Bears, Cardinals, 49ers

and Rams also use the narrower posts.

Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes wishes his team did, too. He

trained at Tampa Bay’s old facility early in his career and kicked

balls through the tighter spaces there.

“I would love it if we had those here now,” Tynes said.

So would recently signed Redskins kicker Graham Gano, who used

the narrow goal posts at Florida State, where they also put a bar

on top of them, making the whole thing look like a giant rectangle.

The idea was to clear the top bar, which forced kickers to get

elevation on their kicks.

Neil Rackers in Arizona uses the skinny posts in the

summertime.

“It’s mostly a training camp thing or if I’m struggling during

the season, I’ll break those out,” Rackers said. “It’s the same

reason before the game and at halftime I go out 60 yards, because

then when you go out for a 50-yarder, they look like they’re right

in front of you.”

The skinnier posts are just one trick of the trade.

Hanson used to put another pole down the middle of the

regulation uprights as a target to “cut down the margin of

error.”

The Packers have a stripe down the middle of their practice nets

for Mason Crosby to aim for, although “sometimes we’ll get on the

end line and kick toward one upright, which gives a clear,

definitive line,” Green Bay special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum

said.

To Slocum, the width of the posts don’t really matter.

“The goal post is just a plane the ball must travel through.

The target is a spot, a specific point beyond the goal post and

that’s what you kick the ball to,” he said.

Jay Feely of the Jets also kicks from the side at one upright to

hone his accuracy.

“It’s the same thing as the smaller uprights, but it’s even

smaller because you’re hitting that one upright,” Feely said. “It

focuses you in on a much smaller target.”

Although Bills kicker Rian Lindell aims for a yellow fire hose

woven through the netting behind the regular uprights, he likes the

idea of using arena league posts.

“That’s not a bad idea at all,” Lindell said. “If you

actually had uprights that looked like uprights that were just more

narrow, yeah, you have to be sharp. And mentally, it’s like it

gives you more confidence when you go out and face actual

uprights.”

The Bears’ practice facility includes narrower posts but also a

big round dot 6 feet in diameter that Robbie Gould aims for.

“It’s a huge benefit. If you have the confidence to make it on

a six-foot post, you’ll be able to make it on the big post,” Gould

said. “I think it’s just a great training technique and teaching

tool.”

Of course, there’s 20 teams that don’t use the narrower goal

posts.

“They actually had those when I signed here, and I asked them

to put the normal ones back up instead,” Minnesota Vikings kicker

Ryan Longwell said. “I want the rhythm always the same. I want to

be kicking at what I’m going to be kicking at on Sundays. I don’t

do a lot of kicking off the tripod. I don’t do any kicking without

a snap and a hold. Try to make it exactly like game day.”

Titans kicker Rob Bironas said he likes using the narrower posts

now but didn’t like watching arena league kickers use them because

they could miss by a foot on a kick that would have been good from

60 yards in the NFL.

The key, no matter how far apart the poles are, is to hit the

spot you’re aiming for, and there are as many schools of thought as

there are kickers in the NFL.

“When I was in college, I used to go back and forth across the

three fields and aim at the light poles,” Bironas said. “When I

hit the pole or hit the steps of the pole, I knew I was within a

yard.”

The Dolphins have a set of the narrower goal posts, but kicker

Dan Carpenter doesn’t use them.

“It’s way over in the corner of the practice field,” he said.

“I could see how it could be beneficial. It gives you a smaller

target zone.”

But he’s a lot like Longwell.

“I want everything to be as game-like as I can get it as far as

the snap and the hold. That’s why it’s better to work with the

snapper and the holder in practice if you can. You want practice to

be as much like the game as possible so when you get to the game

it’s easy.”

The Patriots use the narrow goal posts about half the time.

“Anything that narrows your vision is good for you,” Patriots

long snapper Jake Ingram said. “All the college guys I worked with

did something like that. At Hawaii, we didn’t have skinny posts so

they’d find two trees.”

Hey, it’s all good – as long as the kicks are.

AP Sports Writers Andrew Seligman, Teresa M. Walker, Tom

Canavan, Dennis Waszak Jr., Chris Jenkins, Brett Martel, Joseph

White, Dave Campbell, John Wawrow, Steven Wine, Larry Lage and

Bernie Wilson contributed to this report.