There isn't a college prospect that doesn't wonder where he is going to land on draft weekend, whether it's a blue-chipper in the first round or Mr. Irrelevant at the end of the seventh round. Matt Kalil knew he wasn't going to have wait long to hear his name called, but, in the back of his mind, he had convinced himself to some extent that he would end up in purple.
Kalil had a productive meeting with the Vikings on his pre-draft visit and, given the Vikings' proximity at the top of the draft and a need at left tackle, he said he was hopeful, but not positive, he would be the first pick of the Vikings in this year's draft.
"I had an idea this is where I might end up, but the way the draft works, especially with these trades going down, I was trying to keep an open mind," Kalil said. "It was really a relief when I saw a Minnesota number on my cell phone. I knew right then and there I would be a Viking."
Kalil made the rounds to several teams in the weeks leading up to the draft, but he said something just felt right about the Vikings – both from the team standpoint and where he felt he would be comfortable living for the next several years. He had heard good things about the organization and the community.
"Of all the visits I took, Minnesota was the only place I could see myself living and spending the next 10 years and finishing out my football career there," Kalil said. "I knew people that went to Minnesota and a lot of players that played there and they said there's no other place like it, especially the fan base that Minnesota has. It's probably the best in the NFL."
His joy about taking the next step in his chosen profession won't come without a price. He enters one of the strongest divisions in the NFL, where he will face some of the game's top pass rushers. But nowhere will his challenges be more difficult than in practice, where he will go up against 2011 sack leader Jared Allen every day in practice. Allen will put him through his paces on a daily basis and it's a challenge he's ready to accept.
"I'm definitely excited for that," Kalil said. "The competitor that I am, I know he's going to make me a great player. Especially the division the Vikings are in – the Chicago Bears going against Julius Peppers and my old teammate Clay Matthews going against him for Green Bay. It's definitely a league of great pass rushers and great defensive ends. It's going to be good going against the greatest defensive end in the NFL in Jared Allen. I'm very excited for that."
General manager Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier heaped praise on Kalil, citing his ability as the premier pass protector of the 2012 draft class and one of the best run blockers. For his part, Kalil said he intends to try to become dominant in his overall game, not simply be known as a guy who can neutralize the bull rush.
"It's not one specific area, it's my overall game," Kalil said of trying to develop a strength. "What I try to do as a player is develop both skills evenly. I love to run block. I love to pass protect. It's just about training hard in the offseason, working on technique and improving my overall game."
Between the end of his junior season at USC and the Combine in February, Kalil added 10 pounds of muscle – "lean weight" as he put it. He knew he needed to bulk up somewhat to enhance his draft status, but needed to do it in a methodical way so as not to sacrifice his greatest attribute – his foot quickness.
The transition of an NFL rookie is never easy, but many scouts believe Kalil's transition may be as seamless as any rookie in this year's draft class. Kalil himself may share that level of confidence. No position coach or coordinator could be as hard on him as he is on himself in film study – part of the passion that caught the attention of Spielman, Frazier and the coaching staff of the Vikings.
"I'm my toughest critic," Kalil said. "I'm never going to say one aspect of my game (needs improvement). I would say my whole game. When I watch film of myself, there are a lot of times I'm not pleased. No one is a tougher coach than myself. I'm always looking to improve on everything – run blocking, pass blocking, just every aspect of my game."
Offensive tackle may not be a "sexy" pick that gets the fans whipped up into a frenzy, but the drafting of Kalil looks to be a marriage that will last the test of time. The Vikings are convinced of it and, from the time he landed in Minnesota, Kalil has felt the same way and is appreciative that he found his match in the Vikings.
"When I visited, I got good vibes from a lot of the coaches," Kalil said. "They were telling me they really wanted me. Once they figured out what they were going to do – they would consider picking me – I got good vibes from there. I was still anxious to find out, but it all worked out and I couldn't picture myself at any other place."
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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