ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Arena Football League is gone, leaving a smattering of players good enough for the NFL — and one quiet legacy that plays itself out every week in stadiums across the country.
A league-wide survey by The Associated Press found that a dozen NFL kickers use the narrower goal posts like those from the old indoor league to practice their craft during the week so that when game day comes, the uprights seem so much wider.
It’s a tactic coach Josh McDaniels and long snapper Lonie Paxton brought with them from New England to Denver and a trick Broncos kicker Matt Prater credits for his bounce-back season after fading down the stretch a year ago.
"I definitely wish I would have done it earlier,” said Prater, who missed eight of his final 20 field goal attempts last year but is 29-for-34 this season.
Prater practices on the 8 1 / 2-foot uprights, which are 10 feet narrower than the regulation posts, the same width as the NFL hash marks.
"Kicking on the skinny uprights for so long, when I got back to the regular ones, my lineup just looks a lot wider, so I’m more confident when I kick,” Prater said.
Lions kicker Jason Hanson isn’t among his contemporaries who use the narrower posts.
"Maybe I should do it because he’s having a great year,” Hanson said.
Prater wasn’t sold on them right away.
"At first, I’d line up and the farther back I went, they looked like toothpicks,” Prater said.
He quickly became a huge fan, though.
"You’ve got to hit it perfect because if you’re off by a little bit, it might go through the regular uprights but on those it looks like it’s way off,” Prater said. "So, it’s good practice. It’s good for visualization. You carry that over into a game.”
Nate Kaeding of the San Diego Chargers, the AFC’s leading kicker with 135 points, is a big believer in the skinny posts.
"Yeah, we do it every day. I don’t look at the big uprights until Sunday,” Kaeding said. "I’ve been doing it since freshman year in college. It helps. It’s kind of a mental trick, you know, if you can kick them through the small ones you can definitely kick them through the big ones.”
Garrett Hartley is glad the goal posts from the New Orleans Voodoo arena league team are at the Saints’ practice headquarters. He said using them "dramatically helped my ball flight, just kicking it straight, good height, rotation.”
"Plus it makes it more challenging. I enjoy that,” Hartley said. "As long as you’re getting straight ball flight, the middle is the middle, whatever way you look at it. … It just challenges you in different ways, makes it fun.”
The Jaguars, Titans, Browns, Buccaneers, Bears, Cardinals, 49ers and Rams also use the narrower posts.
Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes wishes his team did, too. He trained at Tampa Bay’s old facility early in his career and kicked balls through the tighter spaces there.
"I would love it if we had those here now,” Tynes said.
So would recently signed Redskins kicker Graham Gano, who used the narrow goal posts at Florida State, where they also put a bar on top of them, making the whole thing look like a giant rectangle. The idea was to clear the top bar, which forced kickers to get elevation on their kicks.
Neil Rackers in Arizona uses the skinny posts in the summertime.
"It’s mostly a training camp thing or if I’m struggling during the season, I’ll break those out,” Rackers said. "It’s the same reason before the game and at halftime I go out 60 yards, because then when you go out for a 50-yarder, they look like they’re right in front of you.”
The skinnier posts are just one trick of the trade.