Matt Prater stood in the locker room at the Detroit Lions' practice facility and said he hadn't really been following the team's kicking struggles this year.
He had far more important priorities during his four-game suspension to start the season.
"I was kind of just staying away from football," Prater said. "Trying to just work on myself as a person."
Prater signed a one-year deal with the Lions this week in the team's latest attempt to solve its kicking woes. Detroit was fortunate that the Pro Bowler was available, but the move will only work if he can overcome his problems off the field. Prater said he voluntarily entered a 12-step program to deal with his alcohol issues.
"Sometimes you've got to get knocked down to learn the hard way," Prater said Wednesday. "I'm thankful that I have a second chance here, and learn from all the mistakes I've made in the past."
This is Prater's eighth NFL season, and he spent most of the previous seven with the Denver Broncos. He made 25 of 26 field goals last season, including a record-setting 64-yarder against Tennessee, and earned his first Pro Bowl honor.
But Prater's 2014 season was in jeopardy after a positive test for alcohol consumption in the offseason. He has been in the NFL's drug program, which includes alcohol, since a DUI arrest on Aug. 12, 2011.
Prater was replaced by Brandon McManus in Denver, and the Broncos cut ties with the suspended kicker last week, just as he was about to be eligible to return.
"It caught me off the guard, but it was a business decision, and I'm very thankful for the seven years I did have out there," Prater said. "Wish them nothing but the best."
The Lions (3-2) became increasingly desperate for kicking help after rookie Nate Freese went 3 of 7 on field goals and Alex Henery went 1 of 5. Henery missed three field goals in last weekend's 17-14 loss to Buffalo, including a 50-yarder that would have put Detroit ahead in the final minute.
Prater said when he came for his tryout with the Lions, he talked with coach Jim Caldwell for about an hour about his past problems.
"I am one who believes in a second chance," Caldwell said. "I've had a few second chances in my life and it made a tremendous difference. I know maybe some of you experienced some of the same things. I do think the young man is sincere and it wasn't just the hour conversation. We vetted him thoroughly a number of different ways, like we typically do in those situations."
Prater says he is tested randomly once or twice a week, and he is not allowed to drink at all. He said about a half-dozen teams were interested in him when his suspension ended. The Lions signed him Tuesday.
"They put faith in me, so I'm not going to let them down," Prater said.
Prater has made 16 field goals of at least 50 yards since 2009 — only two kickers in the league have more. He won't be kicking at altitude anymore, but the move to Detroit allows him to play home games indoors.
The Lions had stability in their kicking game for two decades with Jason Hanson, but his retirement after the 2012 season left the team in an uncertain position. David Akers was with Detroit last season and made 79 percent of his field goal attempts. Then the Lions drafted Freese in the seventh round, but he struggled after winning the job during the preseason.
"They've said they lost some close games that they should have won, and hopefully moving down, we'll get better and keep winning some games," Prater said. "Maybe see Denver in the Super Bowl — who knows?"
NOTES: WR Calvin Johnson (ankle) did not practice Wednesday, and neither did RB Reggie Bush (ankle) and TE Joseph Fauria (ankle). RB Joique Bell, who missed the game against Buffalo because of a concussion, was at practice. ... Detroit signed DT Derrick Hopkins and CB Mike Harris to the practice squad. The Lions released CB Josh Victorian and put DT Xavier Proctor on practice squad-injured reserve.
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