EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) A rough day on the field for Minnesota Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil against Green Bay was only compounded once he left the stadium that night.
Video surfaced Monday of Kalil knocking the hat off a fan who was heckling him as he walked to his vehicle after Sunday’s game, a relatively benign interaction that was more embarrassing than worrisome. But it only added fuel to the growing number of critics who say the embattled lineman has been one of the struggling offense’s biggest problems.
”I usually shrug that stuff off,” Kalil said Monday. ”Fans like to talk and say some things. But it’s just something, I could’ve been the bigger man and walked away. But it wasn’t really that big of a deal.”
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The former No. 4 overall draft pick is getting used to dealing with disgruntled fans. After a Pro Bowl season as a rookie in 2012, Kalil took a step back last year while dealing with an injured left knee. He had surgery in the offseason and reported to training camp hopeful that it would help him return to form as one of the promising young tackles in the game.
But Kalil has struggled mightily this season, routinely being overwhelmed by the pass rushers he is facing and committing penalties that have made it difficult for rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the rest of the offense to establish a rhythm.
In the 24-21 loss to the Packers, Kalil was flagged for two holding penalties and a 15-yard facemask. After the game he declined to address reporters before walking to his vehicle, where a fan caught him ”when I had a short fuse.”
”It was one of those things, when I walked away it was, `What am I doing?”’ Kalil said. ”That guy’s not really worth my time. But whatever happened, happened so I’ll obviously learn from that and won’t let him get the best of me. He just caught me at the right moment. Like I said, usually in one ear and out the other.”
The line sustained another blow Sunday when right tackle Phil Loadholt was lost for the remaining five games of the season because of a torn pectoral muscle. Mike Harris, a third-year pro who started 12 games in San Diego over the last two years, is expected to fill in starting on Sunday against Carolina.
Kalil apologized to reporters Monday for not talking after the game, and coach Mike Zimmer said ”he was wrong in what he did” with the fan.
”We appreciate 99.9 percent of the fans, they’re great for us and he should have conducted himself in a better manner,” Zimmer said. ”It’s a good lesson for all of us. I know that in the past there have been times when I’ve been upset with people, too, but they pay money to go watch us play and watch us perform, so they have a right to express their opinion. We just have to keep our composure and not let things get out of hand, I think.”
Of greater concern is Kalil’s performance on the field. He was drafted to be the cornerstone of the offensive line and is now charged with protecting Bridgewater, who is emerging as the new face of the franchise in the wake of Adrian Peterson’s legal issues.
Kalil said he’s dealing with a lack of confidence in addition to some discomfort in his left knee that is ”off and on.”
”It’s about being a professional and taking coaching and not taking things personally when the coach is hard on you,” Kalil said. ”It’s about knowing that they’re trying to help you improve and me wanting to improve and coming out strong next week.”
Zimmer said the key to building Kalil’s confidence begins with him raising his performance.
”We can try and build his confidence, but you’ve got to go out and play good,” Zimmer said. ”That’s part of it. That’s how you get confident – you play good, really. You see teams that have that kind of swagger, because they’re playing good. They have confidence; they have belief in what they can do. A lot of that’s going to be up to him.”
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