For much of the 2014 season, Matt Kalil has been the punching bag for fans, sports talk radio and football websites for the struggles he has had during the year.
In many instances, he has been singled out as the reason why the Vikings offense has struggled at times and the bombardment hasn’t stopped throughout the year. After practice Thursday, Kalil spoke with Viking Update about his 2014 season, which he admits has been pretty brutal.
He has played better over the last month but is still carrying the stigma of having all eyes on him waiting for the next mistake to come. When it does, his critics can be both vicious and merciless in their attacks on the level of his play. It’s gone on long enough now that he’s actually starting to get used to hearing it.
“It’s been a battle for me, but I’m a competitor,” Kalil said. “I’m going fight through any adversity I face. I think, for the most part, the second half of the season I’ve been playing a little bit better. Obviously there are little plays here and there that are going to get blown out of proportion because I’m under a microscope.”
One of the areas in which Kalil is most under the spotlight’s glare is in the realm of social media, where fans can savage him with impunity and run his name and reputation through the mud. Once a maven of Twitter and other social media platforms, Kalil has backed away from it, feeling that enough is enough with the piling on.
Had his 2014 struggles come as a rookie, he may have been involved in Twitter wars, because, at that time, he lived on social media and would have taken the scathing criticism a little more to heart.
“If you let those things get to you and you live on social media, they can make or break you – good or bad,” Kalil said. “If this was my first year and this was happening – obviously I lived on social media then – but it was a little different because everyone was praising me as a rookie doing well. I’ve kind of learn over the years not to pay (attention to it). I’m not saying I totally ban it, but you guys write your stuff. In the grand scheme of things, you can’t listen to some people who don’t know what they’re talking about and want to go on Pro Football Focus.”
Kalil and Pro Football Focus have become mortal enemies this season. PFF is a stats website that grades out players on every snap and assigns grades to them based on their analysis of the film. The website isn’t sanctioned by the NFL and several players have mentioned this season that too much credit is given to the website by those who believe it is coaches or scouts who are compiling the data. Kalil said that isn’t the case and that their rankings – which currently have him ranked 76th among the 78 offensive tackles that have received grades (ahead of only Carolina’s Byron Bell and Atlanta’s Jake Matthews) – are moot when it comes to how coaches view a player’s performance.
“It’s a website that hires random fans and give them a training tape on how to grade people,” Kalil said. “People want to live on that site and it’s not really a credible site.”
Kalil has been making news for all the wrong reasons this season, whether it be his indictment by PFF or an altercation with a fan following the loss to Green Bay. Kalil explained that the incident was simply a case of wrong place, wrong time when a heckler mouthed off to him as he was leaving TCF Bank Stadium.
He said it wasn’t so much what the heckler had to say that prompted him to slap the hat off the fan’s head, but it was that he had just found out that his close friend and O-line teammate Phil Loadholt had suffered a season-ending pectoral muscle tear and that he was in a foul mood because of Loadholt’s predicament that would end his 2014 season.
“Honestly, the whole thing after the Green Bay game had nothing to do with (the heckler’s comment),” Kalil said. “Phil is one of my best friends and he was out for the season, so I was already pissed off. Usually those guys, they’re not even worth my time. But he kind of caught me at a perfect moment when I was already mad.”
The bad-mouthing that Kalil has been receiving so consistently has been centralized locally around a couple of sports talk radio show hosts who have reveled in his struggles. He’s the first to admit that he hasn’t played up to his own expectations this season, but that he seems to be the target of venom that never goes away and, unless he plays a perfect game, the hits just keep on coming.
“For the most part, it’s a small group of people who really don’t know what’s going on,” Kalil said of the on-air disparagement that has been thrown his way. “I’m not putting myself up there. I’ve had a few bad games where I’ve played pretty bad. But, for the most part, I think that gets blown out of proportion and any little mistake you make people want to criticize you for it.”
When it comes to getting critiques of his performance, he leaves that up to his coaches, because, in the end, they are the evaluators who matter the most to him. He also listens to the two people who have always given it to him straight – for better or worse – his father and his brother Ryan, the starting center for the Carolina Panthers.
“I talk to my brother and my father – who are no-B.S. guys,” Kalil said. “They tell me when I have a bad game. I’ve talked to my brother and he said I’m doing fine. I’ve talked to the coaches here and (they say) I’m doing alright.”
If there is any good that has come out of this season, it is that Kalil’s detractors have helped light a fire under him. He’s tried his best to shrug off the criticism and hasn’t made excuses that he has been playing most of the season with a knee injury – one of the first significant injuries of his playing career.
While he wishes it would all just go away, he hasn’t forgotten some of the barbs and jabs that have been made at his expense. He’s looking to find the positives in it but, in the end, he won’t forget. When he’s 100 percent next year, he’s looking to make his detractors eat their words … even if it requires they be force-fed.
“I’m playing with a chip on my shoulder now and into next year,” Kalil said. “In the grand scheme of things, I’ve definitely got something to prove – not so much to anyone else, but to myself. I’ve never really been injured, so this is a new thing for me. If anything, this year has made me more manly tough than I’ve ever been.”
Vikings tackle Kalil responds to critics
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