AFC West: Scott O\'Brien

The Denver Broncos have secured clutch kicker Matt Prater for the next four years.

This was the right move. Prater has one of the better legs in the NFL and he is a top weapon. As the Broncos celebrate keeping Prater, who they gave the franchise tag to, they should salute former head coach Mike Shanahan and former special teams coach Scott O’Brien.

Shanahan and O’Brien had the foresight to develop Prater. The Broncos raised eyebrows in the organization late in the 2007 season when they signed Prater off Miami’s practice squad as a developmental player even though legendary kicker Jason Elam was still on the team. Yet, Elam was a free agent the next offseason and the Broncos wanted to see if it was worth going with the young Prater and letting Elam walk.

That’s exactly what happened and it proved to be the right move. That is no knock on Elam. He was a great Bronco, on and off the field. But knowing when to move away from aging players is a tricky proposition in the sports. It is not always handled the correct way.

The Broncos made the right call in this case, O’Brien loved Prater’s makeup and Shanahan trusted his assistant.

Prater has been sensational as a Bronco. He seems to be getting better each year. He has converted more than 80 percent of his field goal attempts (90-of-112 / 80.4%) in five seasons. The key to Prater’s game is his confidence. He has made 28-of-29 fields goals attempted in the fourth quarter or overtime. He had four game-winning field goals, three in overtime and one as time expired, in 2011.

He has a monster leg. Prater has the highest field goal percentage from 50-plus yards in NFL history. He has made 12-of-16 career attempts in that range. Plus, Prater led the NFL in touchback percentage on kickoffs in 2011.

The Broncos are in good shape moving forward with Prater and they have the Shanahan era to thank for it.

AFC West mailbag

January, 7, 2009
1/07/09
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Seth from Houston, TX: Bill, With Sproles having the game he had against the Colts the popular perception is to get him resigned at all costs. I think this is a mistake. I believe Sproles is too small to carry the load for 16 games and would break down very quickly. I believe we need to pickup LT's replacement in this years draft and if we can keep Sproles as well, great, but not if it hurts the team to do it. What are your thoughts? I also believe LT will be back next year but he is going to need to split time so he can stay durable throughout the year.

BW: We very well may see how he can handle the load Sunday at Pittsburgh. There is a strong chance star San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson won't play Sunday. Sproles may have to carry the rock more than 20 times again. Let's see if he can handle the wear and tear of being a primary back for two straight weeks. Many people in the San Diego organization believe he has the strength to carry the ball 20-25 times a game. If Sproles isn't overly expensive, I think San Diego will try to re-sign him. He is invaluable as a return man and he has a role in this offense.


Mike from Rochester, NY: It always seems that the Chiefs are last in everything lately. With Carl Peterson out with two weeks left in the season, I would have thought a new GM would be in place by now. What gives?

BW: The Chiefs are taking their time. But they are in talks with New England's Scott Pioli. He is clearly their top choice.


Greg from Va: Will Rex Ryan get a chance to interview for broncos I think he would be a good fit for that nfl city would he have a real chance of getting that job or is broncos going for a offensive coach for head coach?

BW: He isn't on the initial seven-man list. Perhaps if Denver is still looking after the Ravens' season is over he'd get a look. Denver could surely use the defensive boost.


Kellen from San Diego: Bill - Obviously the last two games for the chargers have taken a lot of pressure off of Norv Turner. Do you think Turner has locked up his job for next year with the last two wins? Hypothetically, say the bolts lose in the divisional round to Tennessee/Pittsburgh - should he be considered a failure as a coach this season? As much as I have been disappointed with Norv, you can't exactly argue with how he has done in December the last two years. Lastly, who do you think SD matches up better with between Tenn/Pitt?

BW: I would certainly say Turner saved his job. Look, the Chargers being 4-8 in November doesn't matter. He has led a five-game winning streak and that's what matters most. Turner has to stay. He earned it in a tough spot.


Michael Harrison from Fort Collins: Bill, aside from all the Shanahan firing and coach/gm search, what are your thoughts on the Broncos search for a new kicker? Prater started out ok but became awful as the season went on. Do they sign a veteran, pick one in the late rounds, or sign a undrafted free agent?....Please don't tell me they're going to keep Prater as their place kicker!!!!!!

BW: If special teams coach Scott O'Brien isn't retained, and the odds are he won't be, Prater will likely face stiff competition. Prater was O'Brien's project. He struggled in the second half of the season and the new coaching staff will surely want to see other options.


Nate from Oakland: Whats the chance of Asmugha not being franchised by the raiders?

BW: I doubt it. The word is Oakland will likely franchise him one more time.

Denver's Prater showing some leg

October, 5, 2008
10/05/08
5:17
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

I have to give the Dever Broncos credit for believing in kicker Matt Prater.

They saw something in the kid. Denver special teams coach Scott O'Brien told me numerous times that Prater, picked up late last year, could be special. The Broncos felt so good about Prater they didn't go out of their way to re-sign legend Jason Elam even though he won four of Denver's seven victories in the final seconds and was a beloved star for 15 seasons in Denver. Elam ended up signing in Atlanta.

The Broncos were ready to stick with Prater though he entered this season with four NFL field goal attempts. It was a major risk.

So far it is working. Even though, Prater hasn't been put in a position to win or lose a game with a late field goal attempt, he has shown he has a big leg.

He hit a 55-yard field goal in the second quarter to tie the game with Tampa Bay at 3-3. The field goal easily sailed through the cross bars. Prater has made all four of his field goal attempts of 50 yards or longer. Prater just hit a 40-yarder to give Denver a 6-3 lead late in the second quarter. Prater also routinely kicks the ball deep into the end zone for touchbacks on kickoffs.

The guy has a big-league leg. Couple Prater's leg strength and the thin Denver air and the NFL record long of a 63-yard field goal, which Elam holds a share of, could someday be in jeopardy.

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