Several Vikings players have been slowed by injuries or held out as injury precautions during the organized team activities portion of the offseason, but one player is happier than most to be on the field and practicing – offensive tackle Matt Kalil.
Kalil struggled badly last season – to the point he stayed away from the trollers on social media that made him a target all season long. Entering his fourth season, Kalil is looking to regain the form that made him a Pro Bowler as a rookie.
Following last season, it was learned that Kalil played with injuries to both knees. He had cleanup procedures done on both knees in the offseason and is raring to go to reclaim his spot among the elite tackles in the game and not one who is being discussed as a potential draft bust.
“It’s all good now,” Kalil said. “It was something I needed to have done and have it done in time to be ready to hit the ground running now. I’m just glad to be out here competing again and working on my craft.”
That was something that was missing in the 2014 offseason. Playing through leg injuries late in the 2013 season, the offseason prescription wasn’t surgery, but rest. He missed the 2014 OTAs and it became a game of playing from behind every step of the way into the preparation for the regular season.
Things he would have been doing in OTAs, he wasn’t doing until training camp. Things he would have been doing in training camp, he wasn’t doing until the regular season. It snowballed on him and he wasn’t in the kind of condition to make the most of his technique and it all started by missing last year’s OTAs.
“I missed this whole period last year,” Kalil said. “My hope this time around is to get everything sharpened up before camp. This year, I’ll be ahead of the curve instead of spending the whole year trying to catch up.”
One of the biggest issues for Kalil, whose pride took a beating in the media last season, was that missing time with an injury was something he had never experienced. He had played through injuries and by the time spring practice kicked in, he had sufficiently healed to work through it.
That was until last season. It was something new to him and the memories of it are painful, but not something he necessarily wants to forget. He remembers the uniqueness of what he went through and is using that as his motivation to come back stronger than ever in 2015.
“I had never missed an offseason in my life,” Kalil said. “It was something I wasn’t used to and I found myself pressing to try to get caught up and it always seemed like a step behind where I should be in the progression leading up to the season. Things are back to normal with my schedule and I’m coming into this process with a positive attitude.”
His return to health isn’t the only item on his plate that is new. For the first time, he won’t have guard Charlie Johnson next to him. Johnson was signed by the Vikings in 2011 after the team released Bryant McKinnie and, the following year, used the fourth pick of the draft on Kalil, sliding Johnson inside to left guard, where he played the last three years.
However, Johnson wasn’t re-signed and the Vikings have moved right guard Brandon Fusco alongside Kalil. The two of them have quickly developed a cohesion and Kalil feels like they’ve been playing alongside each other for years, not weeks.
The unspoken communication between linemates often takes time to achieve, but Kalil feels like he and Fusco have made a seamless transition.
“You’ve got to rely on him for help, trust him and he has to trust you,” Kalil said. “You have to know the other guy will be there on certain stunts, protections, run fits – all of that. Things are definitely going extremely good right now. We’re working really well together and I’m excited about that. I hope it stays like that.”
As Kalil left Winter Park following the final game of the 2014 season, he told Viking Update that he was going to commit himself to being the player he knows he can be. His nightmare season was over and he was committing himself to reclaim his spot.
The Vikings clearly believe that will be the case – in May they picked up his fifth-year option on his rookie contract as a sign of faith that his 2014 woes are behind him.
Few players will be under the microscope that Kalil will be in 2015. The object of ridicule and criticism from outside observers in 2014, he sees a new day on the horizon and the closer he gets to the 2015 season, the sooner he can leave 2014 in the rearview mirror.
“Obviously, it wasn’t the way I wanted to play,” Kalil said. “From a mentality standpoint, I felt I finished the year strong and kept grinding. This offseason I got everything fixed up and I look at last year as being in the past and I’m ready to get back out there and start over again with a new start and positive attitude about this season.”
Kalil: ‘I got everything fixed up’
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