ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Most Broncos need only look around the locker room, sideline or the meeting room to see their competition for one of 53 precious roster spots. Mitch Ewald must look everywhere else.
Veterans such as Rob Bironas and Jay Feely and rookies including Dustin Hopkins, Quinn Sharp, Giorgio Tavecchio, Andrew Furney and Casey Spear are Ewald's competition. All but Bironas were waived or released by teams in the last week; Bironas had a tryout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this month.
This is the nature of the position. If you aren't drafted and are signed to be a team's second kicker or punter in camp, it's usually to get repetitions, accept instruction and lay the groundwork for being on the Tuesday tryout circuit, and ideally in someone's training camp the following year.
"Anytime you're in a position like this, it's not just for the team, especially as a rookie, especially as a kicker, too," Ewald said. "It's for just trying to get on film for all the other teams."
When Ewald signed with the Broncos on July 23, one day before training camp began, he wasn't thinking about the possibility of being with the team beyond training camp, not with a returning Pro Bowler at his position. He'd studied Prater in his work to become a better kicker at Indiana University, and in high school he'd received a scholarship offer from Kansas State, where Jeff Rodgers, the Broncos' current special-teams coordinator, worked at the time.
But Ewald figured he'd get some work on tape, hone his craft and move on. Prater's four-game suspension could change that. But now, his potential competition for the next year or more becomes the pack he must out-duel now, as the Broncos look for the best option for the next four games.
"I was never truly thinking, 'I'm going to go beat out Matt Prater, one of the best kickers.'" Ewald said. "But I just wanted to get on film and I've been able to do that. I've still got a lot to do. I've still got a lot to improve on."
The temporary vacancy alters Ewald's situation -- but not by much, considering that it would be little trouble for the Broncos to bring in a placekicker from outside. This is a reality Ewald accepts.
"As far as my opportunity, it doesn't change much," Ewald said. "I'm still going to go about every day the same way I have in the past few weeks.
"At the end of the day, there's an opening there. Is it for me? Who knows? It might be; it might be for somebody else. I've just got to keep working hard and see what happens."
He does have an advantage: familiarity with holder/punter Britton Colquitt and long snapper Aaron Brewer. His work with Prater in training camp also allowed him to incorporate some technical aspects of Prater's kicking into his own.
"He does a great job of attacking the ball," Ewald said. "Obviously, he's got a really, really strong leg. But there's more to it than just his pure leg strength. He really attacks the ball and he does a good job with his form and all that.
"I've learned that I've been always in my career more of a smoother kicker and I'm learning from him now how to attack a little bit more while keeping my rhythm and my form and my technique."
Now Ewald hopes he gets four more games -- and five more weeks -- to show this growth as a Bronco. His training-camp work can open doors in the future, but four games of actual work could give him an edge in any kicking competitions to come. A similar stint in place of the injured Prater in 2010 helped Steven Hauschka land with the Seahawks, where he remains after signing a contract extension.
"This is Matt Prater's team and he's got the four-game deal and if it's going to be more or somebody else, at the end of the day it's Matt Prater's team," Ewald said. "He's a great kicker and I've just got to go with it day by day right now.