Griffen, Kalil challenging each other

They may have their heated differences on the field, but Matt Kalil knows that battling Everson Griffen is making him better.

Everson Griffen and Matt Kalil have quite the battle going in practices at Minnesota Vikings training camp.

Really, it’s nothing new, but the stakes are higher than they have been since they met each other in high school and started their battles as teammates at USC.

Last week, it was Griffen and Kalil scrapping at each other after the heat and constant training camp battles against each other got the best of them. It appeared Griffen’s hands slipped up high on Kalil and the offensive tackle pulled on Griffen’s face mask.

Griffen took offense and came at Kalil after his helmet popped off, but a week later all appeared fine between the two as their on-field battles continue in an effort to make each other better and hone their individual skills.

“It’s just competition. We’re fine. We’re talking,” Kalil said Thursday. “I’ve known that guy since my senior year of high school. I’ve known him for a while, but that’s what happens on the field – you have big guys bashing every day so you’re going to get upset every once in a while.”

Griffen gives any offensive tackle all he can handle, and Kalil knows going up against the multi-skilled Griffen can only make him better.

“He’s just that rare combination, which is good for me. You’ve just got to be perfectly balanced in that set against him because he’s really strong and he’s really fast, kind of like Julius Peppers, one of those type of guys,” Kalil said. “Usually it’s one or the other. You get a real strong guy like Ziggy Ansah maybe or you’ll get a real fast guy. But if you get that combination of both, you can’t be too heavy or too light in your set because he’ll either use speed or use power. That’s helped me a lot. There’s no doubt doing that will help me be ready for Game 1.”

It’s a move that’s been seen several times this year in training camp. Griffen sets up Kalil to the outside, then quickly pivots back inside. Sometimes Griffen wins; other times Kalil recovers in time to get a piece of Griffen.

The fact that Kalil can even work on improving his consistency, balance and technique is a blessing, he says. That wasn’t the case much in the last year.

“I’m finally healthy so I can get back at it and obviously going against Everson helps me a lot, get me a lot better. I’m feeling really confident,” he said.

“You can just get better. You can actually work on your stuff rather than trying to recover after every practice because your knees are hurting. I’ve been going out after every practice working on my stuff, doing extra stuff. I’m able to improve rather than stay stagnant.”

Kalil has dealt with numerous injuries over the last two years. After the 2013 season, he figured a knee injury would heal on its own, but ultimately relented and had surgery that kept him out of most of the offseason work. After the 2014 season, he decided to have surgery in January and felt fully healed by May’s organized team activities.

“Stronger, bigger, I’m quick again on my feet,” he said. “It’s just about getting that back. After a year of bad technique, you’ve got to break those habits and stuff like that.”

Head coach Mike Zimmer, who said Kalil and Griffen have a little thing going, has noticed a difference in his left tackle. It’s not just his improved health; it’s the emphasis the coaching staff is putting on pass protection.

“I think he’s getting better. We’re working our rear ends off down there in pass protection, a lot more than we ever have, probably a lot more than they ever have here. And we’re getting a lot of work at it,” Zimmer said. “The only thing I know to do is, if you practice something you get better at it. … We’re just working really hard to get better in pass protection.”

Now Kalil feels like he can concentrate on his technique, whereas the past few offseasons he’s had to just work on rehabilitating his knees. The work he’s putting in now is much preferred.

“Football is fun again. You can work on stuff, you can improve and get better. That’s what I feel I’m doing right now,” Kalil said.

“It’s going to be fun and I’ll be able to do what I want to do. I always want to compete out there. I’m excited.”

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