When the Vikings used the fourth pick in April's draft to select offensive tackle Matt Kalil, the intention was to have him as a fixture at left tackle for the next decade. That process officially begins Friday when the Vikings meet the San Diego Chargers and Kalil will get his first extended action as a Viking, making his battle with DE Corey Liuget and OLB Shaun Phillips this week's key matchup.
Kalil was the unanimous choice as the best college offensive tackle coming out in the draft and was an easy pick for the Vikings, but his career in the NFL is still in its infancy and his challenge against the 3-4 defense of the Chargers will be a tough first test. He will be asked to make immediate decisions on the fly, whether San Diego will be rushing Liuget from the defensive end position or bringing Phillips from the outside.
Big things are expected from Liuget this year because his 2011 rookie season wasn't everything the Chargers anticipated. San Diego's first-round pick in last year's draft started 13 games for the Chargers, making the transition from being a three-technique lineman to a right defensive end in a 3-4 system, moving him further away from the ball. His offseason has been centered on adding muscle mass because as a rookie he was rag-dolled far too often by NFL offensive tackles that often were able to get him off of his center of gravity and use his 300 pounds to direct him where they wanted to go. The Chargers want to see the extent of his improvement, so he will be asked to bull rush often, which will be the job of Kalil to neutralize.
At the same time, the Chargers' aggressive defense is known for dialing up blitzes. Phillips is a nine-year veteran who has become a defensive leader. While he has lost a step, he still has the speed and strength to loop around offensive quarterbacks. He is a well-rounded defender who is also stout against the run so Kalil will have his hands full when he is assigned to stop Phillips because, while he isn't a dynamic player like DeMarcus Ware, he does everything well and will be a strong challenge for the Vikings rookie.
The biggest problem for Kalil will be making the immediate decision of which way to go – to force down on Liuget or to backpedal and cut off Phillips from the outside. The Chargers are known for mixing things up and are sure to give the Vikings' rookie left tackle some confusing looks in hopes of springing a player through a gap they will try to create.
There is little doubting that Kalil is going to be an impact player for the Vikings as he becomes the next in a short list of Vikings left tackles that have manned the position for a decade or more as the blindside protector of their quarterbacks. San Diego will provide a big test for Kalil, since the Vikings will play six of their games this season against teams that predominantly run a 3-4 defense – Indianapolis and San Francisco in September, Arizona in October, Green Bay twice and Houston in December. It will be one of the bigger transitions for Kalil to adjust to at the pro level and the Chargers are going to be an excellent test of where the bar for Kalil will be set early on, making this the key matchup Friday at the Metrodome.
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.
Key matchup: Challenging Kalil's quickness
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