Kalil: Adversity made him ‘mentally stronger’

Matt Kalil knows he had a rough season, but he learned some tough lessons about the timing of surgery and hopes to make amends this offseason in preparation for a rebound campaign in 2015.

The 2014 season is one that Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil would like to forget. It was a season filled with disappointing play and injuries that held him back. At one point in the season, Pro Football Focus had the No. 4 pick of the 2012 draft ranked as the worst tackle in the NFL, but after some improvement later in the season he was bumped up to No. 81 out of 84.

Kalil’s underwhelming season started when he wasn’t able to work much on his technique as he was trying to heal his surgically repaired knee.

“I didn’t do a whole lot of work on O-line related (drills) and then I went right into camp and things kind of picked up,” Kalil said. “That definitely hurt me a little bit. It took me until after the bye week to kind of figure it out and get my technique back. I played a lot better, but it’s still not the level I’m capable of playing.”

He did play better later in the year. He was credited with allowing 12 sacks throughout the season, but he only allowed two of them from weeks 11-17 – after the bye week. Perhaps he finally got back into a rhythm after taking time off to let his knee heal.

But his knee is still bothering him and told Viking Update that he was planning on getting surgery this offseason. The lessons he learned about last offseason could help him navigate the upcoming months of rehabilitation.

In hindsight, the surgery is something Kalil should have done at the beginning of the offseason last year, but the knee was something he thought would get better, and then once OTA’s started up he realized that wasn’t the case.

“I thought I could get through it and I wasn’t able to,” Kalil said. “The mindset wasn’t wait until OTAs to have surgery, it was something that I thought I could play through. The last thing that I want to do is have surgery on my knee; I think you want to avoid at all costs. It was something I had to do. My knee was swelling up a lot. I decided to have it and now learning from that, the earlier you can have that stuff done, the better because you spend a month rehabbing, healing up, and you could spend the rest of the offseason working on strengthening or O-line-specific stuff or technique drills and all that.”

This past season may have been the first time that Kalil has felt vulnerable as a player. He has never had to deal with any injuries throughout his career, and he has always been one of the best players in the nation at his position, whether it was high school, college, or even his rookie year in the NFL. But all of the adversity he had to face in the 2014 season could ultimately help him.

Players can have a down year at some point in their career, and he realizes that. Therefore, he is viewing this past season as a learning opportunity and believes it has made him mentally tougher.

“I’ve never really had any kind of injuries my whole career and I think you kind of take that for granted, playing healthy and what it’s like to play healthy again,” Kalil said. “So as far as being mentally tough and the adversity I had to face this year, I think it made me a lot stronger mentally. It’s something that you learn from. For me, it’s players have bad years. It’s not the end of the world for me. What I see is an opportunity to go into the offseason and correct what I can correct and have a great year next year.”

Kalil is hoping to get back to his Pro Bowl level he was at his rookie season. If that’s the case, he may need surgery as soon as possible and then rehab it. Once the knee is healed and he is allowed to do full workouts, he hopes to get everything – from his mental sharpness to his physical strength – back to where it should be.

He realizes the importance of this offseason.

“It’s important. Obviously I set the bar high my rookie season so that’s the expectations of me for the rest of my career if I don’t do that or if I do do that,” Kalil said. “As far as I critique myself, I know how I’m doing and the level that I play at. It’s just about getting my body on that same level and being super sharp when OTAs come and keep sharpening that skill set so when the season comes I’m not behind and I’m ahead of the curve and ready to go.”

Kalil has always been a tough self-critic. Whether it’s the fans riding him about his play, sites such as Pro Football Focus critiquing his poor play, or somebody else saying he needs to do better, they aren’t telling him something that he hasn’t already told himself.

During the 2014 season, multiple people were already speculating that the Vikings were going to draft his replacement in the offseason. Kalil is not worried about that and feels as though he can get back to a Pro Bowl level.

“I know what I’ve got to do,” he said. “I don’t know if this sounds bad or not, but I’m not worried about it. I know what I have to do, I set my goals and I’m not worried about it because I think I can accomplish it as long as I do everything I have to do in the offseason to prepare myself and get ready for next season.”

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