Denver's altitude presents challenges, but also a benefit, Mike Priefer says

When traveling to Denver for an athletic competition, the same question always arises.

How will you handle the altitude?

In the city known for being at an elevation of one mile high stands a stadium that is also named for its elevation. That stadium is the site of the longest made field goal in NFL history, a 64-yard attempt converted by former Broncos kicker Matt Prater. Considering the altitude associated with Empower Field at Mile High, it should come as no surprise that Prater made the kick on that very field.

Thinner air can create plenty of unusual occurrences. They can also lead a kicker to try too hard to do something remarkable.

“(The Browns have to) make sure that we have the right cleats again and make sure that the young kicker and the young punter do not crazy,” Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said Thursday. “When I coached there for two years, every opposing punter and kicker used to come in there and just try to go bombs away and try to do something extraordinary because they are going to use the altitude. I told our guys, ‘Hey, just let the altitude work for you. Do not try to do something that you are not.’ 

“We have two strong-legged kickers with our punter and kicker with Jamie (Gillan) and Austin (Seibert). I think if they go out there and just do what they have been doing and kick at a high level, the altitude will actually help them in rather hurt them like it does to other guys because it gets in their head a little bit.”

Most thoughts related to altitude center around early arriving fatigue and shortness of breath. Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said Thursday he’s trained at higher altitude in the offseason and called it “tough,” noting the Browns won’t have much time to adjust.

“You just have to adapt,” Beckham said. “I have it tatted on the side of my ride, ‘Adapt to survive.’”

The Browns have some experience playing in Denver that could serve as an advantage. Last season, the team traveled west to face the Broncos in a Saturday night Week 15 game and came away with a 17-16 win. 

“The air is a little thinner obviously, but it did not seem to be too much of a challenge for us last year getting adjusted,” Browns receiver Jarvis Landry said. … “It was not something that drastically played a part in our endurance, our running or anything like that.” 

Former Browns offensive lineman John Greco said on this week’s Best Podcast Availablethat he thought the altitude concern was a myth until he was part of a long opening drive and found himself nearly gassed after a quarter.

So, the altitude isn’t a big deal. Or it is. Perhaps it affects some more than others.

But as Priefer revealed, the altitude can also provide a surprising benefit beyond field goals. It can assist a punter.

“I would imagine it is probably around 5 yards and the hang time for a punter could upwards of another half a second of hang time,” Priefer said of the altitude’s influence on the kicking game. “I have no scientific proof of that – I am not smart enough to figure that part out. It has been my experience for being out there for two years that it is amazing how an average punt becomes a 5.0 punt because of the altitude.”

Priefer will advise his kickers to play within themselves, but should the Browns find themselves in disadvantageous field position, it might be time to let one rip into the thin Denver air.

With the Scottish Hammer on their team, that could produce a memorable kick — as long as the coverage team has the energy necessary to make it to wherever the ball lands.

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