After a Pro Bowl rookie season and a down year last year, Matt Kalil believes he is back on the upswing.
Kalil had offseason surgery on a knee that was giving him trouble for the second half of last season and couldn’t practice during the spring and early summer months. Once training camp started, he was full go and expects to return to form this year.
“It’s nice to play football and not feel hurt. It actually makes it fun again. It’s just about staying on top of it,” Kalil said. “I’ve been in there every day making sure my knee doesn’t blow up. I think that’s the biggest difference from rookie year to now – you know how to take care of your body and get in a better routine and kind of go out to practice and feel fresh every day. The older you get, it gets a little harder, but I’m not that old yet.”
No, 25 is not old and the Vikings could use improvement with their pass protection.
Last year, they were 22nd in sacks per pass attempt, giving up a sack on 8.06 percent of their pass plays. That equaled 44 sacks and 546 pass attempts. Their opponents were sacked only 41 times and had 648 pass attempts.
Kalil said he was responsible for five sacks last year, and, to him, they seemed to consistently come at the same time in games.
“I think where it really hurt me is I couldn’t have practiced as hard as I wanted to. I think that’s where it took me a while in the game when I wanted to get going,” he said. “I couldn’t practice as hard because the knee is still giving me trouble and I think the five sacks I had last year, three or four of those were in the first series of the game. I started off slow – I’m not using that as an excuse, it’s football and you have to play through injuries, but it’s good not to be hurt.”
Kalil was listed on the injury report with a back injury last October, but he never appeared on the injury report with a knee injury as he figured that wasn’t going to stop him from playing. But it obviously didn’t help him play to his potential, either.
Now it’s not only easier to practice, but easier for him to put in extra practice time, which he has been doing after practice with offensive line coach Jeff Davidson. They have been working on the kick step that is so important to the pass protection for a left tackle.
“He’s gotten better. He missed most of the offseason. He’s gotten better every step along the way and that’s what you’re looking for,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “He played well in the opener. I thought he played better in the second game. He’s making the kind of progress we need him to make.”
The analytical website Pro Football Focus described Kalil as having a “sophomore slump” but still ranked the Vikings’ offensive line sixth in the NFL last year – ranking seventh in pass blocking, sixth in run blocking and 15th in penalties.
But Kalil was ranked only 41st among offensive tackles.
“It’s hard to play when you’ve got something bothering you a lot,” he said. “Maybe in the game it doesn’t feel like it, but I know for me last year being hurt, obviously in the game the adrenaline and stuff like that, you really don’t feel it as much.”
He certainly didn’t let it stop him from making a start. Kalil has started 32 consecutive regular-season games and the only playoff contest the Vikings have played in his two seasons. That included being named to the Pro Bowl in 2012 and making the All-Rookie Team.
Now his focus is getting back to that level.
“I’m studying the film and working on my technique any chance I get. I think it’s paid off,” he said. “I’ve been working hard the last three months to get back into it. Obviously, training camp started off a little slow, but that’s expected after being out for a number of months, but I’m starting to get back to my normal self again and feel pretty good.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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