Kalil: ‘Awesome’ playing next to Fusco

Matt Kalil is excited to have Brandon Fusco playing next to him and had big praise for Fusco’s skills and work ethic.

Left tackle Matt Kalil couldn’t be more excited about a little change in direction on the Minnesota Vikings offensive line.

The drafting of T.J. Clemmings in the fourth round caused the coaching staff to switch former right guard Brandon Fusco to the left side of the offensive line. That places Fusco next to Kalil, who couldn’t be more excited about the move.

“I love Brandon. I’ve seen him play all the time. He’s a strong, smart football player and it’s awesome to have him next to me, another young guy,” Kalil said. “He’s 26, I’m 25, so it’s definitely a confidence booster knowing when we’ve got slide protections he’s going to be there every time if I get an inside move. He’s not going to bail on me. It’s going to be nice to have that. We’re just working on it, getting better every day.”

Kalil was roundly criticized for his play in 2014, but a couple of explanations have emerged in the last few months. First, Kalil had offseason knee surgery and revealed just how much it was bothering him last year when he said he was just trying to survive practices because of the pain last year. Second, Kalil wasn’t always getting the help he was supposed to, according to the blocking calls made at the line of scrimmage.

Kalil is ready to block out the past and focus on a future that has him excited. The move of Fusco looks like it will stick, and Kalil had high praise for his new partner on combination blocks.

“He’s quick. He’s strong. He’s smart. He’s kind of the whole package,” Kalil said of Fusco. “He’s the kind of guy, obviously he came from D-II, but he’s one of those steals in the draft that keeps getting better and better every year. I could see him in the Pro Bowl this year. He’s a great player.”

When Fusco first entered the league as a sixth-round pick in 2011, he was raw and sometimes overwhelmed with everything he needed to learn after playing at Division II Slippery Rock. But Fusco, who self-effacingly has called himself a weight-lifting “meathead,” has gotten stronger and more adept at diagnosing the intricacies of NFL blitz packages.

His progression from raw potential to proven product puts him among the best offensive linemen on the team. Kalil believes Fusco’s confidence has burgeoned the last few years.

“As the years go on and the better he gets, he’s that guy that’s out here before practice working his technique and working on little steps, so you can kind of see those things are paying off the older he gets, so it’s awesome playing next to him,” Kalil said. “I’m speaking like a veteran, but he’s older than me. It’s awesome to play next to him. I’m definitely excited for this year, especially on the double-team blocks, we’re definitely going to get after some guys.”

Communication between the Kalil and Fusco will be the key to their success level playing together. Right now, that’s a work in progress, but Kalil said it’s important for them to be able to simply know what the other is doing without calling it out for the defensive linemen to hear.

That kind of simpatico could take time and will get refined as the pads go on in training camp, but for now the two are making a concerted effort to spend more time on the practice field and off the field together. It might be getting right tackle Phil Loadholt, Fusco’s former blocking partner, a bit jealous, Kalil joked.

“We’re trying to go out a little more. Phil is kind of getting a little upset. That was his boy, so I’m stealing him away. I told him, ‘You guys can’t hang out anymore.’ It’s all good,” Kalil said. “I think we’re a pretty close group on the offensive line. We’ve had a lot of the same guys since I’ve been here. That’s pretty rare. Usually you’ve got guys coming out and coming in every single year. For the most part, we’ve been a pretty close group and I think definitely playing with a chip on our shoulder this year. We’re kind of putting the weight of the offense on our backs.”


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