A while back, I posted some work relating to the principles of kicking that were laid out in Stephan Fatsis' book A Few Seconds of Panic. In it, Fatsis describes the process of learning to kick, and of extending the 'life' of the kicking leg. Despite media and fan rumors that kicker Matt Prater 'lost his confidence' later in the 2008 season, a more accurate analysis is simply that he over-kicked during the competition in training camp as well as in practice and experienced the kind of leg fatigue that is a normal issue among younger kickers. This also points to a weakness in the Special Teams coaching that year.
In the DenverBroncos.com section on specialists, we have an opportunity to learn in more detail exactly why Prater had those problems later in the season and how the team has stepped forward to help him become more successful. Prater described the fact that he had over-kicked while competing for the position, and then kicked too many times in practice in a vain attempt to improve his game. As commonly happens in such a situation, he found that his range and accuracy actually diminished, rather than improved, as he strove for a better outcome.
This report also dealt with something that had confounded many in the MHR community; the release of valued veteran Mike Leach and the addition of Lonie Paxton, formerly of the Patriots. While taking nothing away from Leach, Prater was quick to extoll the virtues of Paxton's skill, claiming that Paxton hasn't had a bad snap in 9 years. When Paxton snaps for Leach, the laces are letter-perfect and the holder (currently punter Brett Kern) only has to set the ball gently on the ground to have it lined up in exacting position. That saves valuable milliseconds before the kick connects, reducing the chance of a blocked kick (or punt).
With no current competition in camp, Prater will almost certainly be the kicker going into the 2009 season. Although some question why Prater has no competition in camp, it's clear from this interview that he will be keenly aware that there will be lots of good kickers looking for a home over the next few weeks. Prater's biggest competition, as is true for every kicker, is within himself. He has had to learn how to create, duplicate and maintain a fairly short, highly technical and utterly unnatural movement with machine-like precision. He began preparing for this season by stopping kicking for a full month, and has learned how to limit his repetitions in practice. Prater also praises the positive coaching style of new Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer, who concentrates on what Prater does right while helping him analyze his errors.
Broncos fans can learn more about Prater and long snapper Paxton as well as punters Britton Colquitt and Brett Kern on the above link to DenverBroncos.com. It's well worth the journey.