For 33 years, the Detroit Lions and their fans never had to worry about one of the team’s positions: kicker.
Between Eddie Murray and Jason Hanson, it was always a relief to see the PAT and field goal units take the field.
But Hanson’s retirement put an end to over three decades of an outstanding kicking game — at least temporarily.
After Hanson retired, David Akers made just 19 of 24 field goals during the 2013 season and wasn’t re-signed.
The Lions thought they solved their issues at kicker by drafting Nate Freese with their seventh-round draft pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Freese, who was a perfect 20-for-20 during his senior year at Boston College, was expected to be Detroit’s long-term solution at kicker.
Freese struggled during training camp, though, and was released three weeks into the season after missing four of his first seven attempts.
The Lions then turned to Alex Henery, who proceeded to make just one of five attempts in the two games he appeared in.
The third kicker ended up being the charm.
Matt Prater, a Pro Bowler who also holds the record for the NFL’s longest field goal, arrived in Week 6 after being cut by the Broncos following his four-game suspension for an alcohol-related violation.
But his first start with Detroit didn’t come without a little drama. Prater missed two of three field goals in his debut with the Lions. The one he did make, though, was a game-winning field goal as time expired to lift the Lions over the Falcons in London.
And his rough start? It turned out to be just that: a rough start.
Prater made 21 of 26 field goals in 11 games with the Lions, and was rewarded with a three-year contract during the offseason.
“To have a veteran guy who has performed extremely well in this league for a long time certainly makes you sleep just a little better at night,” coach Jim Caldwell told MLive.
His success has continued into Detroit’s training camp, as Prater made 10 straight attempts from 39 yards during the team’s workout at Novi High School. With 7,200 fans in attendance, Prater even made three kicks in the camera basket in the back of the end zone.
“It felt good,” Prater told MLive. “I feel good right now. Hitting ’em straight.”
If Prater can keep hitting them straight, that will be good news for the Lions. They may have been slightly spoiled with 33 years of Murray and Hanson’s skills, but Prater seems primed to help Detroit leave their recent kicking woes in the past.