It has been a struggle for Minnesota Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil this year. He has had to deal with injuries, confidence issues, heckling fans and even having sites like Pro Football Focus currently listing him as the 78th tackle in the league – only rookie Jake Matthews in Atlanta is ranked lower than Kalil among tackles that have played more than 25 percent of the snaps.
Kalil’s brother Ryan is a Pro Bowl center for the Carolina Panthers and, naturally, the two are very close and talk after every game, including Sunday’s when Matt knocked the hat off a fan that was giving him a hard time as he left the stadium. On a conference call with Vikings reporters in advance of Minnesota hosting the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Ryan brought a little levity to the situation.
“I was a little disappointed,” Ryan joked. “I would have actually liked him to go with the, ‘You spilled something on your shirt’ and then throw the finger up into (the fan’s) chin. I think that would have been a funnier move.
“It’s probably my fault for picking on him when he was little. Flipping his hat off, I think, was the go-to move for me.”
Ryan said that every team in the NFL gets footage of every game that was played that week, so he watches all of his brother’s games.
“We get the end zone copies and the sideline copies,” Ryan said, “so I’m able to come in before we do our film studying and just watch and see how he plays. I talk to him after every game, and obviously it’s been real frustrating for him individually, but more so just his team sort of in a similar situation that we’re in this year, and I think he’s his hardest critic.”
Being a self-critic of his own play this season hasn’t been easy, knowing when mistakes are being made and trying to over-correct and instead of making it better ultimately making it worse.
Once players start to get down on themselves, it makes it difficult for them to rebound and in the NFL confidence is a requirement, especially on the offensive line where you have to try to have a short memory because if you have one bad play everyone will see it. But the players have to just forget about it and move on to the next play.
“I think obviously confidence is everything in this league, and the hardest thing is to sort of drown out the criticism,” Ryan said. “You know, some of the criticism is fair and a lot of it’s not, but that’s part of the game, and that goes for everybody.
“You have a bad play and you start to second-guess your technique and you don’t continue to do the things that put you in the right situation, and so that’s hard. It’s hard to fight through that, takes a lot of experience, takes a lot of games, a lot of bad games, but those are things that you just got to learn.”
Luckily for Matt, he has that older brother playing in the NFL with him and going through some of the similar things, so he can lean on him and ask for help. Another person he has is his father, who has also played professional football before.
Ryan said their whole family is really close and that they talk to their dad Frank all the time. Whether the game ends in a win, loss or tie, their dad is always there to talk to them and offer advice. Matt was even on the phone with his dad after the game against Green Bay when he flipped a hat off a fan’s head.
“We’re a really close family and my dad’s always been pretty honest – brutally honest a lot of times,” Ryan said. “So I think Matt and I tend to reach out to him because he’s somebody that we’ve started our career with and learned a lot from and he knows a lot about football. You talk to him and he’ll give you the truth about it. I think that’s why a lot of times he calls, to let you know that it’s not as bad as you think or not as good as you think.”
All the support Matt gets from his family members is sure to help him out, but in the end he is just frustrated and wants to be playing better. His older brother has even said that this is as frustrated as he has ever seen him.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Ryan said. “He’s been really frustrated. The thing that hurts them is just everybody telling him he’s letting the team down and that’s not what he wants to hear. I don’t think he’s the problem with Minnesota not having a better record. I don’t.”
Ultimately everything is worse when the team is losing.
In the end, Ryan feels bad for his younger brother, but still believes that he will be able to turn things around.
“It’s frustrating. I think he’s strong, though,” Ryan said. “I don’t think he’s gone in the tank. I don’t think anything like that. I think he’ll be fine. I think its just learning experience.
“It’s frustrating hearing bad things written about Matt, but I know who the guy is, I know how hard he works, how much he cares, that’s frustrating him being my brother, but in the same sense I think he learned a lot, and he’s going to continue to grow and he’ll bounce back from that.”
Ryan Kalil brings levity, perspective
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