NFL kickers dramatically improved over the years

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Now, nobody kicks straight on anymore.

And NFL teams don’t have to go overseas to find their kickers, either.

There’s plenty playing college football who grew up on soccer pitches all across the country honing their kicking skills and learning the torque, twist and technique necessary to make balls go far whether they’re round or oblong.

“A lot of people kind of frowned on soccer growing up. Now, every kid plays soccer,” said Prater, who played on a select soccer team as a kid in Florida and was invited to participate in the Olympic Development Program before turning his attention to football in high school.

Kickers are better athletes nowadays, too.

“I think before, a lot of times a guy who maybe played some soccer when he was young would be the team’s kicker, but now you have a guy that is a pretty good athlete compared to a guy that could kick on a soccer field, and someone saw him kick,” Bills kicker Rian Lindell said. “They start young now, go to the camps, and fine-tune what they do.”

Other factors include long-snappers who do nothing else and the proliferation of FieldTurf that’s better than grass or the old Astroturf.

“Now, there’s a lot of turf fields and even the grass fields are in great condition,” Broncos special teams coach Mike Priefer said. “And back in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s a lot of those fields were mud and the old grass that’s hard to keep up and there were very few turf fields, maybe the old cement turf fields. But even those were a little harder to kick on than today’s FieldTurf stuff. That’s a great kicking surface.”

Tom Dempsey, who set the NFL record with a 63-yard field goal for New Orleans four decades ago _ a record matched by Denver’s Jason Elam in 1998 _ said kickers are better off today because teams pay more attention to them.

“Kickers nowadays have a better situation, because we didn’t have too many coaches who knew anything about kicking,” Dempsey said. “I always used to tell people when I was going well, all the coaches were standing back and telling the press, ‘I’ve been helping this guy. He’s doing well.’ And they never talked to me. If it was going bad, there were no coaches out there to help you. You were on your own.”

Some still are.

“I think there are a few … pretty knowledgeable coaches around, but they’re few and far between,” Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri suggested. “I think most of us are kind of self-taught and we self-learned.”

The weight room is no longer off-limits to kickers, either.

“Maybe some of the older guys said, ‘Hey, I’m a kicker, so I’m not going to do some of that stuff.’ Now, I train just as hard as all of these guys in here,” Jets kicker Nick Folk said. “I might not be able to push as much weight around, but I definitely train as hard as them. So, I think that has a lot to do with it.”

Others, not so much.

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