Of all the Vikings who are looking forward to Sunday's home opener against Cleveland, perhaps nobody is itching to get on the field more than offensive tackle Matt Kalil.
By his own admission, he had one of his worst games in the regular-season opener against the Lions. He was frustrated by the level of his play, but believes he is on the right track and played markedly better against the Bears last Sunday.
"I have high expectations of myself and didn't feel I played as well as I should have against Detroit," Kalil said. "I felt like I did a lot better in the Chicago game. I'm still looking to improve. Obviously, I didn't get off to the start that I wanted to, but I feel like I'm getting back in the groove and playing at a much higher level."
The Detroit game was an eye-opener for Kalil, who struggled against the speed rush of Ziggy Ansah and the outside blitzes the Lions dialed up. However, after a strong performance against Chicago's Julius Peppers – Peppers was on the field for 72 percent of the Vikings' offensive snaps, but had no sacks and just one tackle – Kalil is feeling a lot better about his performance than he did following the loss to the Lions.
"I'm getting my confidence back and I'm looking to get back to where I was playing at the end of last season," Kalil said. "I believe I can play at a high level and just didn't in the opener. It's like any other position. There are times when you don't feel as comfortable as you should be and then you start trying to do too much. That's when you make mistakes. They had guys out there that were making good plays. I don't think I necessarily had a horrible game. I just wasn't playing with the consistency that I want to and need to."
So what was the difference? At a position that is all about steering defenders with bad intentions away from the players he is paid to protect, the job of a left tackle isn't all that different from high school to college to the NFL. If you do the little things that have been the staple of your game, you will be successful. When you stray from that, bad things tend to happen.
"It's just about trusting my technique," Kalil said. "When you get away from your technique and the things that you have done for years, you lose your consistency and you're not fundamentally sound. If you make a mistake at my position, everybody knows it because usually the guy is on top of your quarterback or Adrian (Peterson) in a hurry. I feel like I did a lot better in the Chicago game and I'm looking at building from that this week."
There is never any rest for a left tackle in the NFL because every team has a punishing pass rusher that is hell-bent on getting to the quarterback. Just ask anyone who lines up opposite Jared Allen on game day and you'll find out.
In Week 1, it was the combination of blitzes from linebackers and dealing with Ansah and Israel Idonije. In Week 2, it was Peppers and intensity he brings. This time, it's free agent signee Paul Kruger, who won a Super Bowl title with the Ravens last year and was a cornerstone of their defense. He expects a 60-minute battle with Kruger most of the day.
"They got Kruger over there, who they picked up in free agency," Kalil said. "From everything I've on tape from him (with Baltimore), he gets after it. He's going to be a challenge and somebody who will just keep coming at you. He's a tough guy and a high-motor guy."
So how does a left tackle build confidence? By doing the things he has been taught since his first days at the position. When he's got his footwork and hand placement right, there are few left tackles with the physical gifts that Kalil brings to the table. He has the technique, the fundamentals and the brute strength to neutralize even elite NFL pass rushers.
Kalil has his smile back because he's feeling better about himself, but, following his Week 1 disappointment, he feels like he is starting over again and wants to simply build on what he did last year as the season progressed.
"It's all about feeling comfortable out there," Kalil said. "Every week, you're going up against a team's best pass rusher and it's your job to keep him from getting in the backfield. It's all about technique and sticking with your fundamentals. If you do those two things, you're doing your job. That's what I'm looking at getting back to and helping our team win Sunday."
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.
Technique issues left Kalil under-performing
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