Harrison Smith isn't the only Vikings rookie to have the accolades flowing already in the first half of his first NFL season. Left tackle Matt Kalil is proving worth the investment, too.
Both the numbers from outside observers/statisticians and the analysis inside the Vikings locker room say Kalil may have already reached "franchise left tackle" status.
"I've been so impressed with Matt Kalil coming in and playing at such a high level this early in his career," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said this week. "We rarely have to bring a tight end over there or a back to help him out. He's done a good job against some good players."
Almost at the midpoint of the season, Kalil has certainly faced a variety of pass rushers, from defensive ends from 4-3 schemes and outside linebackers in 3-4 sets, but the athletic left tackle still hasn't been credited with giving up a sack, according to Pro Football Focus. According to that unofficial stats-tracking web site, Kalil has allowed just two quarterback hits and seven hurries in 258 pass blocks, which represents the second-highest pass-blocking efficiency number for left tackles in the NFL.
No wonder the Vikings had him targeted as their top non-quarterback in the draft. His athleticism was immediately apparent in minicamp to offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, who coached Matt's brother Ryan with the Carolina Panthers.
It didn't take center John Sullivan long to appreciate Kalil's gifts, either.
"He's just such an incredible athlete, especially for an offensive lineman – probably the best overall athlete I've seen on the offensive line," Sullivan said. "Very big, long arms, runs like a tight end. He's got a lot of the intangibles that you just can't teach."
Kalil is also picking up on what can be taught. Offensive linemen have much to learn, but Sullivan said the hardest thing for a rookie blocker is to go out on the field and be able to process without thinking too much.
"I know that sounds ridiculous, but as you become a veteran you hear calls, certain protections and plays, and you just know what to do, you know your base rules and the adjustments that are made off of that," he said. "For a young guy, hearing a play and then defining it to yourself and then applying that definition out on the field, it's really streamlining that process is what happens as you get older. So basically it's not thinking."
That may be easier to do against certain teams than others. Count the Arizona Cardinals as one of the more difficult teams. They blitzed on more than half of the Vikings intended pass plays Sunday, although not as much as Kalil estimated (he thought 80 percent) right after the game. Maybe that's because Arizona mixed up their defensive front often.
"They brought them left and right. It's something we prepare for, but they're a great defense," Kalil said.
"For this team, they ran a lot of 3-4. They also ran a lot of four-man fronts to mix it up a little bit. Each team comes with a little different blitzing package each week. It's just all about game plan for that week."
Pro Football Focus has the Vikings' offensive line rated third overall, eighth in pass blocking and fifth in run blocking, and Kalil and Sullivan are two of the big reasons for that.
Sullivan credited Kalil's worth ethic and having a former left tackle, Charlie Johnson, playing guard next to Kalil as contributing to the rookie's success.
"To see the whole group coming together as well as they have, it's been encouraging and that's one of the reasons that Adrian (Peterson) has been able to run the ball as effectively as he has and one of the reasons we've been able to protect the quarterback as effectively as we have," Frazier said. "It's encouraging in a lot of ways. We know we have a lot that we have to work on to continue to improve, but we have the foundation to really have an outstanding offensive line. They're still growing and we have a lot of football to be played."
Said Sullivan: "(Kalil) has done a great job against everybody we've played so far. He's really playing at a high level, especially for a rookie."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Kalil garnering praise, high rankings
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