While most of the attention focuses on the kicker during field goal attempts, there are really three key components that make up each try — not to mention the blocking up front.
THE SNAP IS AWAY…
Paxton is the veteran of the three-man special teams unit, playing in his 12th NFL season in 2011. Paxton has snapped for 15 game-winning field goals during his career, including two in the postseason with New England, where he began his career. The group draws off that experience come clutch time, which helps explain why the trio is four-for-four on game-winning kicks this season.
“Just knowing that he’s been there and done it gives you even more confidence that the snap is going to be perfect,” Prater said. “Just his mindset going into it – treat it like any other kick – and it’s been good learning from him. He’s the best snapper in the league, hands down, in my opinion. He’s just an awesome guy to work with.”
Paxton has worked to perfect his craft, which relies heavily on muscle memory to snap the ball back with the same number of rotations in a perfect spiral to the holder. Colquitt says that Paxton can snap the ball with such consistency that he usually doesn’t even have to rotate the laces as he’s putting it down.
“Most of the time it’s seven-and-a-half or eight-and-a-half rotations going back there,” Paxton said. “You stand a certain distance every time and you just practice it. If sometimes it’s a quarter-turn left, you’re a little bit too far away. If it’s a quarter-turn inside, that means you’re a little bit too close, and you just play with that.”
Colquitt, who is on the receiving end of the snaps, appreciates the consistency from Paxton. Knowing the snap will be perfect every time makes it easy for Colquitt to focus on other aspects of holding for Prater.
“The biggest thing with Lonie is that the snap is perfect every time,” Colquitt explained. “I usually don’t even have to turn the laces. All I have to do is make sure I catch it and then find the spot.”
Fans usually only take notice to the long snapper when he makes a mistake, but Colquitt appreciates how good Paxton is at his job every snap.
“I think it’s pretty rare (to have a snapper that consistent),” Colquitt explained. “It’s one of those things that goes unnoticed. Coaches just expect it to be right, but in the last couple years there have been a lot of guys throwing them bad or getting hurt so you’ve started to see what a vital position it is. Players all know it, but maybe the public doesn’t always realize it. It’s great on punts and field goals to have a guy like Lonie.”
THE HOLD IS DOWN…
Colquitt, who had never held before playing for Denver last season, has caught on to the job quickly, thanks in part to the great chemistry between the three specialists.
“It helps a ton,” Colquitt said. “It’s all about knowing people and being close to each other. With us, we like being around each other. We have good chemistry as far as in practice and on the sidelines during the games. Lonie is really disciplined in what we do as far as when we snap punt snaps, when we snap field goal snaps, how many we do, depending on where in the field the ball is. That has helped me a lot.”
His first work at holding for kicks came during training camp in 2010, when there was time to work on the fundamentals of holding.
“We did 50 JUGS (machine) holds each day on top of snaps with Lonie,” Colquitt recalled. “We’d work on bad snaps, good snaps, faster ones, slower ones, grounders – everything. I think that definitely made it a lot easier and now it’s become one of those second-nature things. We still work on it, and the biggest thing is just Lonie’s consistency.”
Colquitt has picked up tricks as he’s gone along, such as wearing gloves when holding and the nuances that Prater looks for in a hold – getting the ball down quickly with the right tilt and the laces pointed straight at the target. He likes the ball tilted slightly forward and a little to the right so he can kick the ball with the sweet spot on his foot.
“Gloves help a lot with catching it because it’s like receivers,” Colquitt said. “It just kind of helps your sure-handedness because a lot of balls are slick. You don’t have to worry about that if you’re wearing gloves.”
With all the pressure-packed scenarios the group of specialists has found itself in this season, Colquitt doesn’t feel like the focus is on him, which allows him to relax and focus on doing his job.
“Most of the attention is on Matt, so I don’t feel as stressed,” Colquitt said. “I feel like he has more of the pressure there and I’m confident that I just have to catch the ball, put it down and give him an opportunity and he’s going to make it – and he has made all the clutch field goals. It’s just fun to be a part of it. I feel like as the holder for some reason with these two guys around me that the least pressure is on me.”
Prater has so much confidence in Paxton’s snaps and Colquitt’s holds that he doesn’t even think about those parts of the kicking process anymore.
“Britton does a good job at getting it down quick so I can see it with the right lean and everything. He’s the best holder I’ve had.”
THE KICK IS UP…
With all of the variables that affect each individual kick, Prater has plenty of thoughts running through his mind as he lines up a field goal or extra point. Thankfully, he doesn’t have to think about the snap or hold because of all the confidence he has in Paxton and Colquitt.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Lonie snapping the ball and Britton putting it down,” Prater said. “Lonie does such a good job being consistent snapping the ball that it makes the job easier for Britton and me.”
With factors such as the position on the field, the wind, the weather elements and the potential to be iced by opposing coaches, Prater appreciates not having to think too much about what would happen if the snap or hold wasn’t perfect.
“It makes it a lot easier to kick,” Prater said. “I have all the confidence that it is going to be the same every time and I can do my part.”
Colquitt said that he also feels less pressure to put down the perfect hold because Prater is such a good kicker, he can hit a field goal with the laces off a bit.
“Even if I miss the spot or the laces aren’t perfect, Prater hits a really good ball. He usually doesn’t even notice. There’s one game that we have a picture of on the wall (at the team’s Dove Valley practice facility) where the laces are turned in. If he could go back to the film, he could see those laces and that’s the last thing you want as a kicker, to see the laces. But, he doesn’t even notice it.”
The trio has combined to make all four game-winning field goal attempts this season. They’ve also hit clutch field goals to tie games late in regulation, forcing overtime with a 59-yarder against Chicago with three second left on the clock and a 24-yarder at San Diego with 1:34 to play in the game. The group also converted a 46-yarder with 1:33 left in the fourth quarter to tie the game at Minnesota. Each of those three games would later be won with clutch field goals.
All three players said that they treat high-pressure kicks just like they would any other. They work through situational kicks all week during practice so when it comes time to head on the field for a potential game-winning kick, it feels like any other kick.
“You just try to think of it like every day in practice,” Paxton said. “You really don’t get too worked up about it. I’m the older guy of the three of us, so I just try to lead by example. In the end, I’m working for them so I just try to be their caddy and help them through certain situations to calm down. They’re professionals -- Matt knows how to make kicks and Britton knows how to hold. It’s a three-man job and I just try to start off the process in the right way.”
Prater appreciates Paxton’s experience and his calmness in tense situations.
“He knows how to deal with kickers and punters too,” Prater said. “He kind of stays away from us unless he feels like he needs to say something, which is always at the right time. I’m lucky to work with him.”
Colquitt echoed Prater’s thoughts on relying on Paxton’s calmness and experience in those types of situations.
“Lonie has been there so many times and he’s had so many game winners," he said. "I don’t have to worry about whether it’ll be a bad snap – I’ve never even thought that, because I don’t have to. That makes it easier. I know it and Prater knows it, so it makes it a lot easier. Lonie might tell you that he doesn’t know it, but that’s him just being humble. It makes it a lot easier to be relaxed.”
In the end, Prater is glad to be a part of such a well-oiled machine.
"We've been working together a while," he said. "And it's been awesome."