Matt Prater will be the next Lions kicker

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Matt Prater will be the next field-goal kicker for the Lions, according to an ESPN report.

The 30-year-old Prater, who spent the past seven years with the Denver Broncos, reportedly won the job after a tryout that included fellow veterans Jay Feely and Connor Barth at team headquarters in Allen Park on Tuesday.

ESPN reported the Lions and Prater agreed to a one-year deal. The Lions confirmed the move Tuesday night.

Prater started his career with the Lions in 2006 as an undrafted rookie out of Central Florida, but expectedly lost the job to Jason Hanson. He kicked for the Atlanta Falcons for the first two games in 2007 then Denver for the final two games that year.

The Broncos cut Prater last week in favor of Brandon McManus while he was serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse program. The alcohol-related suspension ended Tuesday.

The Lions released Alex Henery Monday after he went 0-for-3 in Sunday's 17-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field. Henery missed a 50-yarder short and wide left that would've given the Lions the lead with 21 seconds left, but the Bills hit a game-winning field goal three plays later.

The Lions signed Henery two weeks ago to replace rookie Nate Freese, a seventh-round pick in May who beat out Giorgio Tavecchio for the job this summer. Freese was 3-of-7 in the Lions' first three games, and he and Henery combined to go 4-of-12 to start the season.

"We've got to find a performer," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Monday. "That's basically what we have to get done in that area. We've got to get a guy who's consistent under pressure and be able to put points on the board."

In addition to handling field goals, Prater provided insurance for kickoffs behind punter Sam Martin, who's been excellent this season. Prater ranked in the top two for kickoffs each of the past three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus' analytics.

Finding a kicker Tuesday was a priority to give the new guy three days of practice to work with long snapper Don Muhlbach and Martin, the holder.

The Lions play the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium, a horseshoe style stadium that often has swirling winds.

Barth and Feely both kicked well Tuesday afternoon. The 28-year-old Barth, who played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2009-12, missed just one of his attempts — a 61-yarder — and hit from 55 and 60.

According to ESPN, Feely made from 58, 60 twice and 61. Feely kicked at Michigan before his 13 years in the NFL, spending the last four in Arizona.

But Prater was one of the best kickers in the league for the Broncos in 2013, making 25 of 26 field goals to earn a second-team All-Pro nod. He also hit a 64-yarder to set a new NFL record last season.

The Lions waited until early evening for Prater to kick and surely did their due diligence because of his suspension. He's been in the NFL's substance-abuse program since a 2011 driving under the influence charge and received the suspension in August for an alcohol-related violation.

If Prater violates the policy again, he'd be subject to a 10-game suspension.

"We'll look at each and every guy and make a determination about what we sense and feel about him on and off the field," Caldwell said Monday when asked about Prater's off-field issues. "That's how we (evaluate) every guy that's suitable to the comfort level of all of us that are involved."

The Lions are 3-2, and even though the offense struggled mightily in the two losses, missed field goals also played a key role. In addition to Henery's misses Sunday, Freese was 0-for-2 in the Lions' 24-7 loss to Carolina in Week 2, both of which came in a first half that ended with the Panthers up 6-0.

"In this league, there are going to be close games," Caldwell said. "A guy in that position is going to decide a number of games, and we've got to make certain we get the right guy for us."

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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