Kalil looking better in Zimmer’s eyes

Matt Kalil put on a little weight but is moving well. The key for him, according to Mike Zimmer, is to finish his blocks.

The focus of much of the attention on training camp has been centered on the improvement of the Vikings defense and the potential firepower on offense. You can have an all-star team of skill position players on offense, but if the offensive line doesn’t get the job done, nobody succeeds.

One of the players who found himself in an unflattering spotlight last season was offensive tackle Matt Kalil. Vilified by analytical websites like Pro Football Focus, Kalil was the object of a lot of scrutiny last season and had offseason procedures on both knees in order to be healthy and ready to go when wins and losses start to matter.

At his Tuesday press conference in Mankato, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer addressed the Kalil situation, saying that he’s looking strong and the key for him is to stay focused on his fundamentals to keep his game strong from one play to the next, one series to the next and one game to the next.

“Part of it is that he’s got to continue to drop his weight and stay low,” Zimmer said. “He’s a little bit bigger this year than he was last year and needs to continue with his focus. His sets look much better to me and I’d like for him to finish those types of plays when he’s in good position. Sometimes he doesn’t finish as well as I’d like him to.”

Kalil is bigger this season, having added some bulk weight in the offseason. At times, some players gain weight and sacrifice their speed or agility to make quick-twitch moves to neutralize pass rushers. But Zimmer said Kalil’s added weight was expected and that, if it doesn’t sacrifice his speed and lateral movement, it isn’t a bad thing for him to be a little bigger than he has played before.

“As long as you can move, I think it’s a good thing,” Zimmer said. “You’re going to get power rushers. With speed rushers, it’s more about re-direct, your punch and your sets.”

With all the positives that the Vikings have coming into the 2015 season, one of the lingering question marks is how the offensive line in general and Kalil in particular will perform. Injuries gutted the line last season and several players struggled with consistency during the year. Zimmer is liking what he has seen in the O-line so far in camp and said fingers shouldn’t be pointed just at them because, if the Vikings are going to be a playoff team, everybody will have to improve their level of play.

“They understand a lot of what’s riding on this season is (on them),” Zimmer said. “But it’s not just them. Defensively, we’ve got to perform better. Teddy (Bridgewater) has got to continue to improve. The receivers have to continue to get better. But they have to be able to perform and perform well.”

One of the persistent rumors swirling around Mankato is that, when the Vikings reduce their roster to 53 players, only two of them will be quarterbacks. The rationale goes that rookie Taylor Heinicke could end up on the practice squad and the Vikings will go with Teddy Bridgewater and Shaun Hill as their two active quarterbacks.

“I assume that we’ll have three quarterbacks, but that’s not set in stone,” Zimmer said. “The roster when we get down to 53, we’re going to try to keep the best 53 for this particular football team and that may be a fluid position.”

In many of the early drills of practice, veteran players have been getting most of the first-team reps despite discussion of open competition for a few spots. A lot of the younger players were moved around during the offseason practiced and asked to handle different assignments. Zimmer said too much shouldn’t be read into that because with young players and new players, the coaching staff wants to throw as much at them as possible to see where they excel and where they struggle, while they have a good idea what the veterans do well or don’t do well. By the time the regular season rolls around, nobody’s job is safe unless they’ve earned it and that is still more than a month away.

“I’m not really worrying about starting jobs at this point in time,” Zimmer said. “It’s still about evaluation. The veteran guys have been here and they’ve been going through the stuff so we typically line them up first. But by the time we get to Sept. 9, that doesn’t mean anything. (Anthony) Barr started last year as a rookie. We have no problem starting rookies.”

Captain Munnerlyn was one of his harshest critics last year, saying he didn’t have a good season by his standards. Now it would appear Munnerlyn is in a dogfight for his starting job and many have written off his chances. Zimmer said Munnerlyn remains very much in the mix for a starting job or a key reserve role because the Vikings are growing depth at the cornerback position and Munnerlyn is part of that process.

“He’s competing for a job, whether it’s a nickel or outside,” Zimmer said. “You can never have enough corners. We’ll see how that all unfolds.”

A training camp can’t go by without someone asking about a team’s identity, as if it is something quantifiable. Zimmer shrugged off the notion that the team is looking to find its own identity, but that fans have a certain level of expectation from the team and it’s his job to make sure the Vikings live up to those expectations.

“The fans are very, very knowledgeable,” Zimmer said. “They know what good football is. They know what bad football is. I want them to come in and say, ‘Man, these guys are doing things right.’ We want to continue to try to build the smart, passionate football player. I like big guys, so we’re trying to keep getting bigger with our team and faster with our team. I think that’s part of it as well.”

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