Christian Ponder "cracked a pretty big smile" when the Vikings drafted left tackle Matt Kalil. Charlie Johnson will be forced to move to left guard. And John Sullivan will have two new guards at his side.
But all of those offensive starters will have a role in Kalil's development along the way.
"We'll bring them in as soon as possible and get them up to speed," said Ponder, who watched the first rookie minicamp practice to get a look at his new blindside protector.
"Having a left tackle, obviously that's a very important spot. Charlie did a good job last year and obviously Matt is a heck of a player and had a great career at USC and is one of the most highly regarded tackles we've had in the past few years. Just to lock down that spot … for him to lock it down is going to make me more comfortable, for sure."
Johnson, Sullivan, Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt joined Ponder in observing Kalil's first practice last week and Fusco pointed out Kalil's quick feet. Johnson, who played left tackle last year and will be moved inside one position to left guard, said he and Kalil can play off each other to make both better.
"Obviously he comes in very highly rated, so that means he's a good football player. That can only make me better. That can only make us as an offensive line better," Johnson said. "Just getting guys to come in who are passionate about it and good about it. I think there's things he can make me better at. I think there are things I can make him better at."
Kalil already has one advantage over last year's rookies: there is no lockout, meaning rookies are already learning the system, a sharp contrast to the spring and early summer months of 2011, when coaches weren't allowed to work with players during the labor impasse.
"I have had the chance to meet Matt a couple times and all the older guys here are resources for the younger guys. And that's an important step," Sullivan said. "Really the onus is on the younger players to come in and pick guys' brains. I assume Charlie will be a better resource for him having played left tackle in this offense. I will do whatever I can to help him out. He'll be welcomed in here with open arms, especially because we feel he can help us win."
Last year, Vikings quarterbacks took 49 sacks, tied for fifth-most in the league. Although Ponder said he needed to improve his patience in the pocket, he still ended up taking 30 sacks in his 11 games played (10 starts).
The addition of Kalil should help give Ponder more confidence in his protection.
"It is huge. A lot of time last year, it didn't necessarily have to do with the protection. A lot of times I wasn't comfortable getting to my third, fourth reads, checking the ball down," Ponder said. "Instead of just checking it down when a guy is wide open, I'd just run. That's something I have to get away from. It's easy to break the habit. It's just going to make it so much better having full confidence in the protection. Offensive line is looking good. They got stacked up pretty quickly and they've got a lot of depth now. I'm excited about that as a quarterback."
Johnson said he will take "quite a bit" of time to get to know Kalil and help him out with the nuances of playing left tackle in the NFL.
"Along the offensive line, the whole thing is to work in synch and work together, so that's a big part of it," Johnson said. "Bringing a new face into it, you kind of have to get used to what he does – what kinds of steps does he take, what does he like, what doesn't he like? – stuff like that. It will take a little bit of time. But we'll figure it out."
Sullivan said the high attendance at the Vikings' offseason training sessions is a good start to melding an offensive line that will have new starters at three different positions – Kalil at left tackle, Johnson at left guard and likely either Geoff Schwartz or Fusco at right guard.
"We're building camaraderie as we speak," Sullivan said during a short break in a workout last week. "We'll have OTAs again this year, something we missed out on a year ago — mostly because of the circumstances of the lockout. And I think that will help to a great degree before the 2012 regular season starts."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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