Lions minicamp observations: Skinny posts help Prater get straight

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Mandatory minicamp is a week after OTAs from June 14-16.

Allen Park — When Matt Prater was with the Denver Broncos, long snapper Lonie Paxton gave the coaches a great idea for how to help the kicker improve his accuracy.

After seeing the Patriots use narrow goal posts in practice during his time in New England, Paxton suggested the Broncos add some of the skinny uprights to help the kickers.

Prater used those goal posts for about five years — Paxton joined the team in 2009 — and he suggested the Lions invest in some this offseason. Prater and rookie kicker Kyle Brindza have been using the 9-foot wide uprights — NFL posts are 18 feet, 6 inches apart — at times during organized team activities and minicamp.

"So then when you go over to the normal uprights they look huge, where you feel like you should put it right down the middle," Prater said Wednesday.

Prater's logic appeared to work Wednesday when he went 3-for-3 on field goals in team drills, making from 49, 51 and 54 yards after warming up on the narrow posts. Prater said he hopes the Lions coaches will let him use the smaller ones during team drills in training camp and during the season so he doesn't have to see the regulation ones until games.

"Kicking's all mental," Prater said. "Anybody can go out and kick. It's just who can do it under pressure and in the games. It's just a little mental part where you aim small, miss small."

The narrow uprights are from Arena League Football, but the NFL could soon have skinnier ones, too. At this year's Pro Bowl, the league used 14-foot wide goalposts as an experiment.

"They're challenging, obviously, because of the fact that (if) they get accustomed to kicking on those, they certainly can kick on the wider brand," coach Jim Caldwell said.

Other observations from Wednesday's minicamp:

* The play of the day goes to wide receiver TJ Jones and quarterback Dan Orlovsky, who connected for a perfect deep ball in 11-on-11 drills. Cornerback Mohammed Seisay covered Jones, but the second-year receiver created separation after the ball was in the air, speeding up just enough to catch it in stride. Jones also made getting open on a slant against cornerback Crezdon Butler look easy in a one-on-one from Kellen Moore. Overall, this was Jones' most impressive open practice since the Lions drafted him in the sixth-round last year.

* It's no surprise, but Travis Swanson appears comfortable in his job as the starting center. During both minicamp practices, Swanson has been the only center snapping to Matthew Stafford, both in individual and team drills.

* Stafford was incredibly precise during practice with only a couple of his passes hitting the ground, including one after a defensive penalty. Many of his passes went to Golden Tate, and the two looked to be in perfect sync.

* Seventh-round pick Corey Robinson played first-team right tackle with Cornelius Lucas out. On a few 11-on-11 plays, he did well blocking Darryl Tapp and Larry Webster.

* Manny Ramirez remained the first-team left guard for the second straight day. First-round pick Laken Tomlinson, meanwhile, played right guard on the second team. Tomlinson is the favorite to start at left guard, but it makes sense for him to prepare at both spots in case Larry Warford suffers an injury.

* Defensive end Devin Taylor played some snaps as a tackle. The Lions' defensive linemen often rotate spots, but it was clear he received a shot to impress on the interior.

* Punt returners didn't have their best day as both Ameer Abdullah and Tate dropped a punt. To his credit, Abdullah looked excellent later in practice when he caught a punt with room to run, quickly finding creases in the coverage.

* Tate appeared to take a hit to his groin after one punt return. He was on the ground briefly, but didn't miss any of individual drills that started after the special teams period.

* Tight end Eric Ebron dropped one pass over the middle while covered by Josh Bynes. He later had another ball fall incomplete, but the refs called pass interference on safety James Ihedigbo.