EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings rookie left tackle Matt Kalil went to the tape of last Friday’s preseason game to see exactly what happened when San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Larry English beat him for a sack.
Kalil knows the solution. He will deal with many speed rushers in the NFL, but speed isn’t the issue. Kalil believes having a better understanding of the offense will improve his reactions.
“It’s just a little hesitation,” Kalil said. “From what I saw on film when I got beat for that sack, it’s not a matter of me just getting beat one-on-one, it’s a matter of me not kick-stepping fast enough, or thinking too much. That’s what I’m talking about as far as knowing the offense well enough to where I can block a lot easier and play more efficient.”
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Kalil hasn’t put many such instances on game film recently, or had the need to go back and discover where the breakdown came. Drafted with the No. 4 overall pick by Minnesota in April’s draft and immediately anointed the starting left tackle, Kalil didn’t allow a single sack his final, junior year at the University of Southern California.
At 6-foot-7 and 308 pounds, Kalil has the size and skill to be a cornerstone for the Vikings at left tackle for years. His transition to the NFL has gone smoothly, as expected when he was labeled the best all-around, most NFL-ready offensive lineman in the draft. But Kalil hasn’t been without his rookie mistakes either, such as Friday when English sacked Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder.
Ponder was sacked five times, twice by English, and said he has to do a better job of moving in the pocket.
“I’ve just got to move up in the pocket and not just sit in the trouble zone,” Ponder said. “And that’s where I was sitting in. That’s on me, but easily correctable.”
Kalil knows too, that he will give his quarterback more time as he gets more time in the offense and has a better grasp of the offensive schemes.
“It takes time,” Kalil said. “I think since I first came in, I obviously know the offense a lot better. That’s what preseason’s for. Each game I’ve improved and play a lot faster. It’s only a matter of time. I think I know the offense really well, but I think it just takes a certain amount of games and experience, to actually play in those game-type atmospheres, to fully understand the offense and play at a fast level.”
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave also knows Kalil’s talent will be emphasized as he gains experience in the offense. Musgrave noted Kalil’s technique and anticipation will improve with experience, and he’ll be able to better handle the speed rushers.
Kalil’s quick feet and long arms were two of his main attributes that excited the Vikings, ultimately leading to moving last year’s left tackle Charlie Johnson inside to left guard and drafting Kalil.
And Kalil believes his biggest challenge in his transition to the NFL is just understanding Minnesota’s offense the same way he did in college. Maybe then, he’ll have the same success he’s used to.
“It’s just getting used to the plays, getting used to the different concepts than college,” Kalil said. “Kind of getting to a point where, my senior year in college, I knew the offense inside and out and all you had to focus on was playing fast, playing with great technique instead of focusing on the play. So I think it’s a matter of me getting to the point where I’m comfortable enough with the offense that I can play a lot faster and more efficient.”