It's been almost five months since the Vikings made offensive tackle Matt Kalil their first-round draft pick. From day one, he has been envisioned as a bookend left tackle that will man the position for the next decade. On Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, that process will officially get underway.
Kalil has seen the incremental ramping up of intensity from minicamp to training camp to the preseason. By all accounts, he has graded out well in each of those phases, but the final test will come Sunday when wins and losses start to count. That challenge is what is motivating Kalil and getting him ready to make his NFL debut.
"It feels different from the preseason because it's the real deal now," Kalil said. "Those felt like scrimmages to me. It's a different mindset now. They helped me prepare myself so I won't be caught off-guard about what the game day atmosphere will be like. The preseason prepared me for that, but I'm excited to get things started for real and show the team what I can do."
Thanks to the scheduling of the Jaguars for the season opener, Kalil won't have to go up against a Pro Bowl type player like Julius Peppers or Clay Matthews. Instead, he will line up against second-round rookie Andre Branch. Like Kalil, he has a lot to learn, but is an impressive foundation point for Jacksonville moving forward and Kalil is excited about the challenge he will present as both play their first NFL game.
"He's a great player," Kalil said. "I watched him on film. He's got a high motor. He's a great pass rusher and is also great in the run game. He's a pretty big guy, so I'm excited to face him and see what he has to offer."
The Vikings are more than a little interested to see what Kalil has to offer. Viewed as a "can't-miss" prospect coming out of USC, he has spent the last month adjusting to the increased speed of the NFL game and absorbing the playbook like a sponge. He has seen his own improvement from the first few days at Mankato to where he is now and said that, as the Vikings have dialed up the intensity of fully opening the playbook the last couple of weeks in preparation for Jacksonville, Kalil has seen his knowledge of the offense grow exponentially – even since the last preseason game two weeks ago.
"I've made a lot more (progress)," Kalil said. "Having these last two weeks to prepare for the regular season, I'm a lot more comfortable. It's just one of things about being a rookie – making those slow progressions. These last two weeks have been crucial to my development and getting more comfortable with the offense."
On Sunday, Kalil will achieve the goal he set for himself back in high school when he starts his first NFL game. The Vikings anticipate it will be the first of 100 or more starts he will make and Kalil can't wait to get the "real" games started.
"I've been preparing myself for this moment for a long time," Kalil said. "It's great that it's no longer just a dream or a concept. It's here now and I'm ready to accept the challenge and show the Vikings and our fans that I can do the job. I'm sure there will be some butterflies when it gets to be game time, but I've waiting for this moment since I was a kid. It's here now and I have to start proving myself week in, week out. That's my focus now and I can't wait to get it going."
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.
Kalil ready for ‘the real deal'
Viking Update Top Stories
Fusco: O-line problems correctableAs players and coaches watched film of Sunday's loss to Philadelphia, more than a few them got an uneasy feeling. Not because the Eagles dominated them as much as it appeared, but…
Viking Update4:15 AM
Vikings sign 3 to practice squad, release 3The Minnesota Vikings shook up their practice squad on Tuesday, signing three – including an offensive lineman – and releasing three.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 1:34 PM
Long: No excusesJake Long was only on the field for 13 plays Sunday at Philadelphia, but two of those resulted in turnovers that cost the Minnesota Vikings offense from putting up points. On…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 12:55 PM
Did rotating tackles affect Vikings?The Minnesota Vikings took the unusual step of rotating their offensive tackles in the first half of Sunday’s loss. Did that affect their performance? Alex Boone reacted to that,…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 12:42 PM