EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Perhaps no one knows Minnesota Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil, or what he’s going through, better than his brother, Ryan.
Ryan Kalil, the Carolina Panthers’ center, has watched his brother from afar, spoken with him often and can sympathize with some of the struggles Matt is having in his third NFL season.
With their two teams playing this week, the two brothers were still talking. They spoke Tuesday and Ryan admitted Matt is as frustrated as Ryan has ever seen his brother.
"He’s been really frustrated," Ryan said on a conference call with Minnesota reporters on Wednesday. "The thing that hurts (him) is just everybody telling him he’s letting the team down, and that’s not what he wants to hear. I don’t think he’s the problem with Minnesota not having a better record. I don’t . . . I think he’s strong, though. I don’t think he’s gone in the tank. I don’t think anything like that. I think he’ll be fine. I think it’s just learning experience."
Ryan, four years older than his brother, has seen some of the ups and downs in the NFL. Carolina is going through some of the same team struggles Minnesota is. The Panthers are 3-7-1 but still have a chance at the playoffs because they play in the struggling NFC South. The Vikings’ 4-7 record puts them three games out in the NFC North.
Matt has admitted to confidence issues as well as still dealing with a troublesome knee injury. The frustration came to a head Sunday when Matt was confronted by a fan outside the stadium after Minnesota’s 24-21 loss to Green Bay.
Matt was talking to his dad on the phone during the incident.
"I asked my dad if he heard what happened," Ryan said. "He said, ‘Yeah, I heard the whole thing.’ He said, ‘It was a really ugly deal.’ The guy called him over, said he was a big fan, asked for his autograph. He went over there and then he started saying some pretty ugly stuff to him. So I think my brother just kind of reacted.
Ryan then offered a little levity for the situation.
"It’s probably my fault for picking on (Matt) when he was little," Ryan joked. "Flipping his hat, I think that was the go-to move for me."
Ryan joked Matt should have gone with a different approach.
"I was a little disappointed," Ryan said. "I actually would have liked him to go with the, ‘You spilled something on your shirt’ and then throw the finger up and hit him in the chin. I think that would have been a funnier move."
They are two brothers in contrasting mental states right now.
Ryan can joke. Matt has been at the center of the criticism lobbed at Minnesota’s offense.
Ryan can’t help but watch what his brother is going through. Each week when teams get film from teams around the league, Ryan will go in early and watch Matt’s games. It’s a ritual Ryan said he’s always done, but he’s watched a bit more closely this season.
"I especially watch them when I know that he’s hard on himself and he had a bad game and I just want to see what he’s harping on," Ryan said.
Ryan and Matt also reach out to their dad, Frank, a former offensive lineman himself who played in the United States Football League. That’s why Matt was on the phone with his dad on Sunday when the altercation occurred.
"We’re a really close family and my dad’s always been pretty honest, brutally honest a lot of times," Ryan said. "I think Matt and I tend to reach out to him because he’s somebody that we’ve started our career with and learned a lot from and he knows a lot about football. You talk to him and he’ll give you the truth about it. I think that’s why a lot of times he calls, to let you know that it’s not as bad as you think or not as good as you think."
Over the phone, Ryan and Matt sound alike, even. Ryan joked "I’m much better looking, don’t forget that."
The light-hearted — at least right now — brother also offered a closing message and word of encouragement for his sibling.
"Go easy on li’l bro, alright?" Ryan said. "He cares a lot about that place and about that team."