Minnesota Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil says a big reason for his rookie success is the ability to remain focused on the task at hand.
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But as the months turn colder in the Twin Cities, thoughts of the beach, glowing sunsets and mai-tais in January admittedly enter his mind from time to time.
Kalil leads all NFC left tackles in the Pro Bowl voting that runs until Dec. 17. This isn’t based on reputation, popularity or big-name recognition like some of the frontrunners at other positions (cough, Jake Long, cough). Kalil’s ability to stonewall some of the NFL’s leading pass rushers and help pave the way for league rushing leader Adrian Peterson has drawn him well-deserved praise from media, his peers and Vikings coaches.
“I’m never really focused on the end of the year or where I’m going to be (playing-wise),” Kalil told FOXSports.com on Thursday at the team’s Winter Park headquarters. “It’s always just improving week by week. I think I’ve done a good job of that.
“It’s hard to do. It’s hard to say, ‘This is the only week I’m worried about,’ and seeing the Pro Bowl (talk). I’m not going to lie. I look at that. It’s pretty cool to see, but that’s not really my mindset.”
If it weren’t for some other phenomenal youngsters at more glamorous skill positions — notably Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck, Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III and Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin — Kalil would be a strong candidate for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. The No. 4 overall pick in last April’s draft, Kalil immediately entered the starting lineup and became the kind of shutdown left tackle Minnesota sorely missed in last year’s 3-13 season after Bryant McKinnie ate and drank his way off the team by ballooning to almost 400 pounds.
“He’s like a basketball player out there playing left tackle with his feet, hands and agility,” Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier told FOXSports.com. “And then he has a passion for the game. He really has that temperament you look for in an offensive lineman. It’s almost a defensive lineman’s mentality, which is rare on the offensive side.
“You combine that with his athleticism and you’ve got a unique young guy. We rarely have to give him help over there."
That isn’t to say the 6-foot-7, 295-pound Kalil is perfect. He admits to being only “OK” last week in a 28-10 loss to Chicago after allowing multiple pressures of quarterback Christian Ponder.
Kalil, though, has learned better than to dwell on his mistakes as the Vikings prepare for the FOX America’s Game of the Week against Green Bay (1 p.m. ET Sunday). That was a valuable lesson imparted by two other family members with pro pedigrees. His father Frank was a U.S.F.L. offensive lineman in the 1980s; Matt’s brother Ryan is a three-time Pro Bowl center with Carolina.
“Having a short-term memory is important and underrated by a lot of people,” Kalil said. “I’ve seen a lot of tackles where a defensive end will beat them on a play and they’ll be thinking about that the whole game. They go into survival mode where they’re trying to do everything not to get beat.
“No one is perfect. Even the best get beat. It’s just about forgetting that play and maybe thinking about how he beat you, what we can do better if we run that play again and moving on.”
Kalil catches a break on Sunday with star Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews out because of a hamstring injury. Even so, Kalil spent the week preparing as if a pass-rusher he described as a “whole different specimen” than other defensive players was going to be on the field.
“I’d rather have that mindset than thinking he’s not playing and feeling a little relieved,” Kalil said of his former college teammate at Southern Cal.
“I know after he got hurt they weren’t running any true three-man (defensive line) so they’ve changed it up a little bit. They’re really active. They play at a high tempo and get after it. When you just watch film, guys are moving everywhere.”
A strong performance Sunday should help Kalil move one step closer to an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii.