Matt Kalil played in the Pro Bowl as a rookie and led the fan voting among left tackles for that honorary game, but Jared Allen, the man Kalil faces every day in practice, believes the Vikings' left tackle has improved in one important facet already.
"His sets aren't rhythmic anymore. He changes his sets up on me," Allen said. "We have conversations about what he's trying to do and what I'm trying to do. He's done a great job, honestly. He just gives me different looks. He wins some; I win some. That's going to help. If you can be inconsistent in your sets, it makes it so much harder to prepare for you because you don't really know how he's going to play."
Kalil's athleticism and refined technique when he entered the league drew praise last year, but Allen said Kalil is already ahead of the curve of most second-year players when it comes to making improvements from one year to the next. He also paid a big compliment to Kalil with a nod to one of the great offensive linemen of the past few decades.
"It's reminiscent of some of the older guys I've played with. Will Shields was the master of that. I don't think he ever gave anybody the same set," Allen said. "He was a master with his hands, flashing his hands, jumping a guy. You just keep a guy guessing. It's the same thing we're trying to do with them. We're trying to keep them guessing where we're going to go. It's been fun. It's been a fun conversation; it's been a fun competition and it's good to see him grow like that."
Kalil was the No. 3 overall draft pick and the highest draft pick the Vikings have spent on an offensive tackle since taking Hall of Famer Ron Yary, selected first overall in 1968.
Kalil also comes from a well-established football family. His father, Frank, played center at Arkansas and Arizona before playing in the USFL in 1983 and 1984, and his brother Ryan is a Pro Bowl center for the Carolina Panthers.
Still, Kalil remained humble as ever, even in the face of high praise from Allen, one of the best pass rushers in league history.
"I have my down days, too. That's the thing. You can never stay too high or too low," he said. "You've got to stay kind of even with your attitude and your mind. For the most part, I'll mess up here and there. But I think the biggest thing is just have a short-term memory. From college, or if I ever got beat here, the thing about that is that it messes up your play for the future plays. I think, ‘OK, I got beat. What did I do wrong to get beat and correct it?' Do that and go into the next play and do a better job. I think it's that process that has helped me come along a little bit better."
Part of the progress can be credited to offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, who has been stressing the importance of Kalil building off a good first year in the league, head coach Leslie Frazier said. Much like a defense scouting a quarterback, Frazier knows that defensive linemen and their position coaches have been and will be watching film on Kalil to counteract what he does. The Vikings, in turn, want to continue to see him ascend.
"Matt wants to be the best left tackle in the National Football League, so he is working hard and we just have to keep putting him in positions every day," Frazier said. "He is going against some pretty good defensive linemen here on the other side of the ball at our training camp. All of those things help get him ready for the regular season."
In some aspects, being consistent is a good thing on the offensive line. Kalil has to work with left guard Charlie Johnson on timing and assignments, but he also has to keep defensive ends and pass-rushing linebackers guessing, and that's were Allen believes Kalil has made the biggest jump.
"It's a reactionary thing. You don't know how the guy is going to set and what protection is called," Allen said. "A lot of guys get into a rhythm. They set and punch the exact same time so I know where he's going to be and what he's going to do. He's doing a good job of changing up his hands, his punch, and he's athletic enough to do it. It's been a fun battle."
Kalil has enjoyed the competition, too. Going against a perennial Pro Bowl defensive end every day in practice isn't easy, but Kalil is adapting and improving.
"I think my kick step is the same. I guess as far as where I'm looking on his shoulder pads and where I'm aiming my punch, I've gotten a lot better," Kalil said. "A little more focus on eye location and hand punch. Just little technical things, but it's those little things that make all the difference in doing a better job in blocking great players like Jared."
Said Allen: "I would say he's ahead of the curve than most guys in the league."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Jared Allen: Matt Kalil ‘ahead of the curve'
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