Kalil ready for offseason surgery, revival

Matt Kalil will have “clean-up” surgery on his knee next month and is looking forward to bringing his game back to a top-notch level.

Few players in the NFL have taken as much venom from fans and the media as Minnesota Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil. On Thursday, Kalil opened up on the knee injury that has been bothering him since the end of last season and that will require a surgical procedure next month to repair.

It has been a season to forget for Kalil. He has been credited with allowing 12 sacks – the most of any offensive tackle in the league – and he has been trying to regain the fundamentals that got him sent to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. It’s been a long year, but he is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“The past four or five games I’ve been playing better and I want to finish the season strong,” Kalil said. “My plan is to have the best offseason I’ve ever had. The surgery won’t set me back, so I intend to hit the ground running and attack my offseason workouts like never before.”

The surgical procedure isn’t very invasive – “just cleaning some stuff up,” Kalil said – and shouldn’t sideline him for long. He had a similar issue at the end of last season and felt that there was a domino effect to his play – one thing after another wasn’t right and they began to mount as the year progressed. He points to his 2014 offseason training as being a detriment and realizes that the work he wasn’t doing last summer came back to bite him in the fall.

“The thing that messed me up last offseason was trying to get my knee back healthy,” Kalil said. “I honestly didn’t work that much on technical stuff. I’ve always harped on technique and being fundamentally sound. That’s what I’ve always worked on in the offseason. This past offseason, I was so focused on doing stuff to strengthen my leg and I didn’t spend as much time as I should working on my kick step and taking my footwork steps. It showed up in the first half of the season. I was kind of behind. I felt like I was behind the 8-ball the whole time. It started at camp and it wasn’t until these last four or five weeks that I feel like I’ve caught up.”

Kalil hasn’t used the injury as an excuse – he hasn’t spoke to the condition of his knee much during the 2014 season – but admitted that the mental toll he has taken this year has been more significant than the physical aspect of his injury.

Kalil has the mentality that if he can walk he’s going to make every effort to play. At times this season, that mindset has been his own worst enemy.

“I’m a tough guy, so I’m going to play through anything,” Kalil said. “Obviously, the knee wasn’t where it needed to be, but from the mental standpoint, as well, I came in camp trying to do what I’m supposed to do but my body wouldn’t let me. Then you start getting beat a lot more and it messes you up mentally. You start changing everything and moving things around. That was kind of what I got into and it messed me up a lot. Being mentally tough is what saved me. About midseason, I just came to the realization that I needed to just go back to doing what I’ve always done and, once the knee started feeling a little better, I’ve felt a lot better about my game over the last month.”

Kalil has mapped out an offseason training regimen for himself and is looking to get his surgery done as quickly as possible to get himself on track for being ready for OTAs and restore the confidence in the coaches and front office that he feels has slipped along with his play in 2014.

“I’ll be ready to go by OTAs and will be sharpening myself up even more during the OTA process,” Kalil said. “The goal is to hit camp next year at 100 percent and ready to go. I don’t want to be in a situation like I was last year when I felt like I was just behind the whole time.”

What coaches and teammates may see next year is a stronger Kalil – both physically and mentally. Football has always come effortlessly to him and the past year-and-a-half is the first time he has had to face the kind public criticism he has experienced from the fan and media dog-piling during the season. He has backed away in large part from social media because fans have been scathing in their criticism of him as a player and a person. It’s something new for him and he’s out to prove that it isn’t getting knocked down that is the measure of a man; it’s the getting up and fighting back.

“I’ve never faced this kind of adversity before and it’s been a learning experience,” Kalil said. “Everything came kind of easy for me at USC and my first couple of years here I felt pretty good about my level of play. This year, I’ve faced adversity like I never have before. That’s what makes great players – how you bounce back from adversity. I have no doubt in my ability and I’m going to come strong next year to prove to everyone the kind of player I am and can be.”

He will be entering the final year of his rookie contract, so he will be at a watershed point in his career in 2015. When he arrives with his teammates down in Mankato, he’s convinced everyone is going to see a different player. He’s taken his lumps from critics and is using the bad press and disparaging remarks as motivation to come back stronger than ever in 2015 – both in body and mind.

“With all the stuff that happened this year, the criticism and all that, it’s definitely made me more mentally tough than I’ve ever been,” Kalil said. “It’s actually helped me a lot because facing adversity is what makes or breaks people. It’s made me a lot tougher. I’ve worked through a lot of things and you find out what kind of person you are coming out the other end. I’m happy with the direction that I’m heading and I feel good.”

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