INDIANAPOLIS — In a league where there aren’t enough good tight ends to go around, Matt Kalil believes he would have been a “sweet” one if given the chance.
“Like Anthony Munoz catching touchdowns,” Kalil said Thursday with a smile.
In this case, Kalil’s father knew best.
Frank Kalil envisioned his son following in Munoz’s footsteps as an all-star left tackle at Southern Cal. This is why Matt Kalil’s attempts to play tight end were immediately dashed during practice in his freshman year at Servite High School in Anaheim, Cal.
“My dad went on the field and said ‘No, he’s playing left tackle,'” Matt Kalil recalled Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “That pretty much ended that dream.”
But while one dream ended, the seeds to achieve the ultimate goal of playing in the NFL were successfully planted. Kalil is now projected as the top tackle prospect in April’s draft. He could get chosen as early as No. 2 overall by tackle-needy St. Louis, provided the Rams don’t trade the pick as expected to a team that wants to select Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
“He has the feet and skill-set that you’re looking for,” said Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, whose team is an even stronger candidate than St. Louis to pick Kalil at No. 3.
“He has the arm length. He has the nasty demeanor. He’s going to be a very good left tackle in this league as he grows in the position and moves forward.”
Should he achieve such heights, Kalil has his father and brother to thank for their help along the way.
Frank Kalil played center for two seasons in the now-defunct United States Football League after being a 1982 11th-round draft choice by the Buffalo Bills. Matt’s brother Ryan was a Pro Bowl center the past three years for the Carolina Panthers.
Matt says his father didn’t force football onto him or Ryan. But after both expressed their desire to play as teenagers, Frank made it clear that he would groom both with a tough-love approach. When Ryan would practice his snapping, Matt essentially served as a blocking dummy whose knees were regularly bloodied.
“For my dad, ‘Let’s play football’ means, ‘Let’s go do kick steps and work o-line drills,'” Matt Kalil said.
The Kalils usually did this at Butterfield Park in Corona, Calif.
“We spent hours on end going to the park, working on my technique, watching film in high school, and coming home on the weekends in college and going over film with my dad,” Matt said. “Basically, doing everything I can to become a better player. He taught us there’s always something in your game you can improve.”
Having already proven himself as a standout pass protector for Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley, Kalil admits he must work on bettering his run blocking. The 6-foot-6 Kalil also weighs 306 pounds, which would rank him among the NFL’s lightest left tackles.
“I’m definitely looking to put more bulk on my frame,” said Kalil, who turned pro after his junior season. “I’m so tall and slender that I can weigh 310 and it wouldn’t look like it.”
But when it comes to intangibles, the fact Kalil comes from a football family is considered a plus. Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert cited the Matthews clan – Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews’ father, grandfather and uncle were NFL players – as an example.
“Bloodlines are important,” Colbert said. “I think your chances are good that if a guy comes from a family of great players he might be a great player. That doesn’t guarantee anything, though.
“Genetics are obviously a huge part of lineage. But having grown up and been around the game and seeing what those before them did to be great players, it probably would help.”
Besides the responsibility of living up to his family name, Kalil also will face the heavy scrutiny that comes with being an early draft choice. After seeing his brother’s path with the Panthers, Kalil said he is ready for the high expectations that come with being projected as an immediate NFL starter.
“Whatever team I go to,” Matt said, “I’ll fight my butt off to earn a spot and definitely excel at the position and hopefully be there for the rest of my career.”
Now that would be sweet for the team that drafts him.