Kalil, Johnson discuss transitions

Matt Kalil is in a new town, learning a new offense with a new team. Charlie Johnson can relate. He was in the same position last year and without the benefit of offseason practices and now makes the move to guard. Kalil and Johnson talked about the transitions and getting comfortable with their new roles next to each other.

Vikings fans were ecstatic on draft day when the team was able to trade out of the No. 3 spot and still get the player they coveted – offensive tackle Matt Kalil. However, there was one person who would have been within his rights to be more than a bit upset about the selection of Kalil – Charlie Johnson.

When the Vikings made the decision to release Bryant McKinnie when he showed up at training camp following last year's lockout woefully out of shape, the first thing they did was bring in Johnson to take his place. A year later, Johnson is out as the left tackle and moving inside to guard, where he replaces another veteran Viking that was released (Steve Hutchinson).

Johnson saw the handwriting on the wall and knew the team might well take Kalil, who comes to the NFL with the "can't miss" tag. He was powerless in the decision-making process, but said he didn't hold any animosity because the job of the draft staff is to bring in players that can best help make the team better.

"The front office guys have been doing this for a long time and they're going to pick the player they think can help the team the most," Johnson said. "Looking at the rankings, you know who the top guys are. Every year there is always a quarterback, a defensive end, a wide receiver and an offensive tackle that are rated at the top. There's always going to be a tackle that is in the top five, so I didn't see them picking (Kalil) as anything to be upset about."

Kalil is expected to be a foundation block of the Vikings offense for the next decade. He is still in the infancy of his NFL career and said he is working overtime to get up to speed, especially with the terminology of the Vikings offense, which is pretty daunting when compared to what he ran in college.

"The biggest difference here is the size of the playbook," Kalil said. "There are a lot more plays than we ran at USC, but it's been a good transition. The hardest part was getting back up to full speed. I hadn't played at full speed since last November, so that took some getting used to, but it has come back quickly and I think the transition has gone pretty smoothly."

Johnson found himself in a similar position a year ago. Not only was he moving to a new team in a new city for the first time in his professional career, the Vikings were installing a new offense that they weren't able to learn until after the lockout ended. This time around, not only do the Vikings have the typical time allowed to prepare for the coming season, the familiarity with Bill Musgrave's offense is helping the process along significantly.

"Amongst the offense, there's more of a comfort level," Johnson said. "Last year, we kind of were thrown into the fire and played the season. This time we can take the time to focus and learn all the intricacies of the offense. Us older guys are able to teach now, whereas last year we were all learning."

That comfort zone for the veterans has bled over to Kalil. He said his fellow linemen have been extremely helpful and welcoming. If there is something Kalil doesn't pick up on immediately, his teammates have been more than willing to share their knowledge of the system, something Kalil appreciates.

"All the veteran guys have been really nice to me," Kalil said. "Guys like Charlie and Sully (center John Sullivan) and Phil (Loadholt), they've been through this before and know the offense. If I've had questions, they've been very helpful with me. We're a team and we all have the same goal – being as good as we can be and win games."

Among them has been Johnson, who played Kalil's position most of his career, including the first season in the Musgrave offense. He is in a new learning curve as well, transitioning from tackle to guard. But, with guard experience while playing for the Indianapolis Colts early in his career, Johnson said his move inside hasn't been as difficult as it may seem from the outside.

"I've had experience playing guard," Johnson said. "I played a year at guard in Indianapolis, so it's something I've done before. It's not like I haven't played there. The positions are different, but not all that much. The biggest difference is that instead of playing next to a guard, I'm playing next to the center. Sure, you have different assignments and the area you cover is more compact, but you're asked to pass block and run block regardless of where you play on the line."

Lining up next to each other, a considerable part of the Vikings success on offense will fall on the massive shoulders of Kalil and Johnson. Kalil will be put out on an island against the best pass rushers in the game and he is prepared for the challenge. He realizes he will have to push himself to become a Pro Bowl-type player and knows it won't happen overnight. He still has that "fish out of water" feeling, but said he can see the improvement in daily increments.

"I'm just taking it day to day right now," Kalil said. "I'm still getting acclimated. I've lived my entire life in southern California, so it takes some adjusting. But I'm looking at being at this position for 10 years and help this team win a championship. It will take some time to get to that point, but we're all in it together and I think everyone is working to put the best team on the field. I'm just glad to be part of that."

It is clear the Vikings view Kalil as an upgrade at left tackle, but Johnson said he isn't bothered by that, admitting that, if he was in the same position, he probably would have made the same pick when the Vikings were on the clock. Instead of taking it as a personal indictment, Johnson sees it as a step in the progression to return the Vikings to a playoff-caliber team and, as long as he still figures in that mix, he's fine playing guard or tackle.

"I haven't made it seven years in the league because of an ego," Johnson said. "I knew my role coming into this league was to do whatever I had to do to play. If I have to go inside, that's something I have to do and I have no problem with it. I still have a job and still get to the play the game for a living."

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