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Prater gets first crack at replacing Elam

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -Jason Elam is getting his kicks for the Atlanta Falcons these days, and his replacement in Denver understands the lukewarm reception he's getting from Broncos fans at training camp.

Some fans give Matt Prater the silent treatment or look him over skeptically. Others wish him well.

Prater gets it. He has all of one field goal on his resume, and Broncos fans for the first time since 1993 are wondering what's going to happen when kicks approach the uprights.

Elam's numbers rival the best kickers in NFL history: 395 field goals, fifth on the career list, over a 15-year career in which he played in more games than anyone in Broncos history and piled up a franchise-best 1,786 points.

"I might be mad too if a Hall of Famer left to go to another team," Prater said. "I might be upset, too, but I'm here and I'll try to make the best of it."

Prater joined the Broncos in December, handling kickoff duties in the Broncos' last two games after being waived by Miami and Atlanta last season.

Elam's contract expired afterward and the Broncos wanted somebody who could also kick off, so Elam went to Atlanta, where he played high school ball.

After flirting with a number of veterans, the Broncos decided to go with Prater, waiving Garrett Hartley.

"We had better be confident in him because he's the only kicker we've got," coach Mike Shanahan said. "We want to give him all the reps. We want to see what he can do. We want him to know that he's our guy, that we have a lot of confidence in him and hopefully he takes advantage of an opportunity."

Prater appreciates the show of support but he's not letting his guard down.

"Even though I'm the guy now, I'm competing with everybody in the league still," Prater said. "Say I go out here today, miss a bunch of field goals, they'll be looking for somebody else real quick.

"So, I've just got to come out here every day, kick well and even if I'm the only guy here, there's still tons of guys out on the street looking for a job."

Prater doesn't shy away from questions about replacing Elam, queries he knows he'll face all season, especially if he misses a game-winner after Elam made four of them last year.

"I try not to think about it too much because no one's going to be able to replace Jason. He did such a great job for so long," Prater said. "I'm just hoping to come out and do the best I can do and see what that amounts to."

Elam's leg strength waned in recent years, forcing the Broncos to either keep an extra specialist or turn to punter Todd Sauerbrun, who wore out his welcome in Denver last December.

In stepped Prater, whose forte is kickoffs because of his powerful right leg.

"That's the best thing I do is kick off," Prater said. "Then, the field goals, I'm working on it. I'll be good though."

Prater is thankful for the three weeks his time in Denver overlapped with Elam's last season. They became fast friends and Elam took him under his wing, cautioning Prater to work on consistent, smooth kicks and not focus on his power so much.

Elam said he saw a bit of himself in Prater: a powerful kicker who needed to polish his techniques to find the rhythm that would produce stability and endurance in this unforgiving league.

In 1993, Elam kicked a 63-yard field goal against Jacksonville, tying Tom Dempsey's record for the longest field goal in NFL history.

"He said he was a lot like me," Prater said. "He kicked the long ball coming out, a little inconsistent."

Elam is still looking out for him, too.

"He actually texted me the other day and wished me good luck. That was really nice," Prater said. "And that he's thinking about me means a lot."

When Elam left, he told Prater to call him anytime he needed advice on anything, and sure enough, last month, Prater reached out to Elam for tips on rehabbing a strained groin.

Prater said he's most thankful for Elam's public comments after his departure that Prater was the best option to replace him in Denver.

"It meant a lot to me," Prater said. "That was huge for me."

Now, he's just got to convince Shanahan he's the man for the job.

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