Take a few steps back, then a few steps over. Raise one finger, with both eyes on the tee.
When Matt Prater lines up for a kickoff, it may look like he’s trying to kick the stuffing out of the ball. For Prater, that’s not necessarily the case.
“I don’t really think about it,” Prater said. “I just go out and try to hit it pretty solid. Don’t try to kill it but hit it pretty clean and get it down and give the guys a good opportunity to cover it.”
Through three games this season, Prater has been doing just that. Of his 15 kickoffs in 2009, 13 have landed in the end zone and seven have gone for touchbacks.
Opponents are starting on average at their own 20-yard line — 20.6 to be exact. That AFC-leading mark by Prater and the coverage team has aided the Broncos’ defense in their rise to a No. 1 ranking entering Sunday’s matchup with the Cowboys.
While Prater was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for September, he was quick to credit his teammates’ role in receiving that award.
“Our kickoff team has been doing an awesome job covering the kicks, keeping them inside the 20 for the most part,” Prater said. “It helps out the defense just off percentages on drive starts for opposing offenses.”
Knowing those percentages reveals a small piece of the sharpness cultivated under new special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.
Priefer arrived in Denver with a reputation for building tenacious units. In his seven years of coaching, his teams have blocked 14 kicks, while returning seven for touchdowns.
That success has continued this season thanks to an emphasis on looking ahead.
“He’s done a ton,” Prater said of Priefer. “I couldn’t think of just one or two things. I think a big thing he helps with is the mental part of it — just staying positive and learning from every kick. The most important kick is the next one.”
There were two Friday changes to the Broncos’ Week 4 Injury Report. After limited participation in Thursday’s session, Peyton Hillis (head) practiced on Friday with full participation. Kenny McKinley (illness), who did not participate in Thursday’s practice, was also a full participant in Friday’s practice. Both are probable for Sunday’s game.
The Cowboys had one change on their injury report. After not participating on Thursday, T Flozell Adams had full participation on Friday and is probable.
Here are some photos from the start of Friday’s practice, including Daniel Graham wearing pink gloves in support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
– Chris Gentilviso, DenverBroncos.com