For the last couple of months, it has been the conventional wisdom that the Vikings were going to take offensive tackle Matt Kalil. Although they muddied the water by claiming an interest in wide receiver Justin Blackmon, cornerback Morris Claiborne and the potential of trading down, the Vikings were able to multi-task and accomplish two goals – moving down one spot, adding three picks on the third day of the draft and still landing Kalil.
General manager Rick Spielman had a difficult time keeping a smile off his face and he explained the process that not only got the player they coveted most, but also a trio of Saturday picks.
"We are very excited about getting Matt Kalil here and very excited about the trade we were able to do before we got on the clock," Spielman said. "There was a lot of activity around 5 o'clock. Multiple teams had started to call, so you felt that jockeying at that position was going to take place. Once we talked to Cleveland and got the deal in place that we got, we were very excited about that and went ahead and pulled the trigger."
Although Spielman refused to admit he was trying to create some competition for the third pick (the de facto first pick of the draft with the first two selections already etched in stone), Spielman said he loves the upside of Kalil, who has so many outstanding qualities that teams look for in the once-in-a-decade style offensive left tackle.
"What he brings to us is stability at the left tackle position," Spielman said. "He's an extremely talented athlete. He's a junior (at USC) and a young kid that's only going mature and grow into his body. He has the arm length you're looking for and the foot quickness to be out on an island out there and matched up against the premier pass rushers in this league. I know it's going to take some time for development, but Jared Allen going up against him every day is going to help school and educate him and hopefully make that process quicker."
Head coach Leslie Frazier said the plan will be to have him entrenched as the starting left tackle by the time the regular season starts – with the anticipation that he will be there for the rest of the decade and beyond.
"We think he'll get to that point by the time we get to opening day," Frazier said. "He's extremely physical, he's a smart guy and very athletic, He has all the ingredients, in our mind, to be ready to take on that task on opening day."
One of the reasons why so many believed Kalil would end up being the Vikings choice was that the Vikings are in the baby-step phase of the maturation of Christian Ponder as an NFL quarterback. With the job now firmly his moving forward, protecting his blindside became a top priority that trumped other needs. Spielman pointed out that top wide receivers and top cornerbacks hit the free agent market, but top young left tackles almost never do, which stated to him the importance of the position and the importance of Kalil to Ponder's success.
"To have a quarterback not have to worry about that left side or have the insurance that the left tackle will be able to handle the speed rushers that we're going to face in this division," Spielman said, "helps the quarterback focus more on what's going to happen in the passing game down the field and maybe getting that extra time to find an open receiver. Hopefully, Matt will fulfill all that."
Frazier agreed with that assessment, saying Kalil fits in every aspect of the offense, whether it's protecting Ponder or opening holes for Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart.
"It's a very important spot in today's football – as much as teams are throwing the ball now," Frazier said of the left tackle position. "He's an excellent run blocker, but a tremendous pass blocker as well. We feel like we got the best of both worlds in Matt."
The drafting of Kalil may have closed out the team's need along the offensive line. With recently-signed Geoff Schwartz and Brandon Fusco expected to compete for the right guard position and the ability to slide Charlie Johnson inside to left guard, Spielman believes the Vikings O-line went from being a question mark to be solidified with one draft pick.
"Our intent was that if we got (Kalil), Charlie could slide into left guard," Spielman said. "We've locked in John Sullivan at center, we'll have competition at the right guard spot and Phil Loadholt is our right tackle."
Although both Frazier and Spielman said there was an interest in players like Claiborne or Blackmon, the potential to have an elite talent for a decade or more was one of the primary factors in the decision, but far from the only one.
"It played a role, but it wasn't an overriding role," Frazier said. "Where we are from an offensive standpoint and what Matt brings to the table as a player was the overriding factor. We really believe his future is so bright. He really fits what we're trying to get done."
As much as the Kalil selection filled a need, Spielman said it is his love of the game that sold him on making the pick (while both Claiborne and Blackmon were still available). You can teach technique. You can't teach the fire that burns inside a player.
"The one thing he has is passion for what he's doing," Spielman said. "He fit that bill for us. When you watch him play on the field, in talking to his coaches the approach that he takes to get prepared week in and week out, you know he's going to come and do everything he can to make himself the best player he can possibly be."
It's been said that offensive linemen don't sell jerseys or season tickets, but they help win championships. The Vikings hope not to be picking in the top three or four spots again for a long time, but, when they had the chance, they made the pick on someone they anticipate being in the same role for the next 10 years.
"We got us a starting left tackle that will come in and solidify a key position on our football team for many years to come," Frazier said. "You know how important that position is in our league. With the great pass rusher that we see week in and week out, having a guy like Matt Kalil will give us a chance to have a cornerstone at that position for a number of years."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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