Tom Dahlin/Viking Update

Minnesota Vikings tackle calls prove-it year ‘a good thing’

Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil is looking forward to the challenge of proving he deserves a big contract and is feeling healthier than he has since his rookie season.

For the last couple of seasons, perhaps no Minnesota Vikings player has been under the microscope more than offensive tackle Matt Kalil. From the likes of statistical websites like Pro Football Focus to criticism of coaches and fans alike, by this time in his career, Kalil was expected to be a perennial Pro Bowl player after being selected with the fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft.

Instead, he has been the subject of considerable scrutiny. As such, entering the final year of his rookie contract, Kalil could have every right to be feeling the heat about his future with the franchise. After all, the Vikings have made sweeping changes, from the hiring of new offensive line coach Tony Sparano to the free agent signings of tackle Andre Smith and guard Alex Boone.

Kalil isn’t threatened by the signings, he’s excited by it, because he feels that the more talent the Vikings have on the offensive line, the better it will be as a group.

“This is the most veteran guys we’ve ever had in the offensive line room,” Kalil said. “It’s creating great competition and we’re all motivating each other. We’re improving wherever we can and we’re looking to get better every day. I think everyone is excited about what we can accomplish this year.”

With the five offensive linemen who started all 16 games for the Vikings last year – Kalil, Brandon Fusco, Joe Berger, Mike Harris and T.J. Clemmings – the addition of Boone and Smith and the return of injured veteran starters John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt, the Vikings have nine offensive linemen with starting experience on the roster.

What was often viewed as a weak link on the roster last year is now seemingly flowing with talent and competition at every position along the line.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Kalil said. “I don’t think there’s a team in the league that wouldn’t want to have a lot of guys with previous experience as starters. Getting Sully and Phil back will just make us that much better. They’re great additions to get back. They’re great players and we’re just glad to have them back and healthy.”

http://www.scout.com/nfl/vikings/story/1676330-smith-looks-forward-to-vi...  Of all the Vikings linemen, nobody has more at stake than Kalil. Elite left tackles in the NFL earn eight-figure salaries and Kalil is on the brink of getting what, historically speaking, is often the biggest contract a player receives – his second contract. Whether Kalil is feeling the pressure of the fact that potentially tens of millions of dollars are at stake based on his 2016 performance, he isn’t letting that be known. In fact, he sees this make-or-break season as a challenge.

“It’s exciting,” Kalil said. “I thrive on competition and I think we have as much talent on this line right now as we’ve had at any time I’ve been here. I like to play under pressure, so, if anything, knowing that this is the final year of my rookie deal is only going to make me play better to prove that I belong with this group. It’s a good thing.”

One of the reasons Kalil maintains his optimism is one of the simplest a player can have – he feels great. Following the 2014 season, Kalil had surgical procedures on both knees. His rehab process took up most of the offseason and was cause for legitimate concern.

It was also testimony to the fact that Kalil, who has never missed a game in his career, was playing at less than 100 percent – and had been for two years.

He didn’t use his nagging knee and hip pain as an excuse. He would only acknowledge the injuries when speaking off the record. Publicly, if he wasn’t asked, he didn’t tell – even though he, his linemates, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and the training staff knew otherwise.

His offseason regimen has returned to what it was prior to 2015, with one significant change.

“The only real difference is that I started training earlier,” Kalil said. “I took a little less of a break because I was feeling good after the season. I kind of wanted to get ahead of my usual schedule and work on some things to improve my game. This is one of the better offseasons I’ve had in my career.”

[FOR RECENT VIDEOS, CLICK HERE]

We won’t find out until early next year whether the Vikings are willing to invest long-term in Kalil – having his fifth-year option executed by the Vikings, he won’t be hurting for cash in 2016. He’ll take down $11 million and change this year. But his goal for 2016 goes far beyond the end of the season.

He has made Minnesota his home. His fiancée is from here. He has started businesses here. He knows he will be under the microscope all season long and needs to come up big to get paid big.

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Kalil wants to earn his keep because, if the choice is his, he wants to become a grizzled vet in Minnesota Vikings lore, not a guy who came and went when his rookie deal was done.

He envisions the window for great things coming for Minnesota in what would likely be the duration of his potential second contract and he is looking forward to being a part of the upward movement.

“This is where I want to be,” Kalil said. “I feel great this offseason. The last couple of years, I was dealing with knee problems and a hip problem, but thing are great now. This is the best I’ve felt at this point of the year since after my rookie year. I’m excited about the future here with the Vikings and, if I have anything to say about it, I want to end my career as a Viking and be one of the guys who helps lead us to where we all believe we can go.”

 


Viking Update Top Stories