Prater gives Lions stability in kicking game
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) When the Detroit Lions opened last season's training camp, the identity of their next placekicker was a mystery.
A year later, there's no such concern.
Matt Prater is back after signing with the franchise early last season, leaving one less thing for coach Jim Caldwell and his staff to worry about as Detroit seeks a second straight playoff berth.
''We have guys that have experience and have done well,'' Caldwell said, ''so I feel good about that.''
The nine-year veteran came to the Lions after being released by Denver, which ended its relationship with Prater as he returned from a four-game suspension under the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Prater gave the Lions a seasoned kicker once again. The franchise had been spoiled by more than two decades of the reliable Jason Hanson.
''It's nice this year getting a lot of reps with (long snapper Don Muhlbach) and (punter) Sam (Martin), and I have more confidence coming in this year,'' Prater said after a training camp practice.
''Last year I only had 20 or so kicks with them and had to go out and play a game.''
Prater was open when he signed with Detroit about steps he took to combat a drinking problem that led to the suspension and his abrupt exit from Denver, where he set an NFL record with a 64-yard field goal in 2013.
He voluntarily went to a Florida rehab facility and discussed the matter with Caldwell and other team officials before the Lions offered him a contract.
Though only 31, he'll likely have the luxury of focusing just on field goals again this season. Martin handled kickoffs last season, and though Prater will kick off during the preseason, it's likely the punter will reclaim the duty during the regular season.
''If Sam is hitting them like he did last year, I don't see why we should make a change,'' Prater said. ''He was second in the league in touchback percentage, so he's obviously a top kickoff guy.
''It's something we shouldn't mess with.''
The Lions play their second exhibition game Thursday night at Washington.
Nate Freese beat out Giorgio Tavecchio in camp to start last season, but was released after making three of seven field-goal attempts in the Lions' first three games. Alex Henery succeeded Freese, but was 1 for 5 in two games, including a late miss that cost Detroit against Buffalo.
''Last year, I thought we were in good shape,'' Caldwell said. ''We had a young kicker and then obviously once we got into competition, some things changed a little bit.''
The franchise signed Prater in early October and he finished the season making 21 of 25 field goals.
He's still certain a 70-yarder - even outside of Denver's high altitude - isn't out of the question.
''If it's the right opportunity at the end of a game or before a half, why not attempt it? It's definitely doable,'' he said.
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