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Thread: After 'long road' in physical therapy, Matt Kalil back from the brink

  1. #1
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    Mar 2006

    After 'long road' in physical therapy, Matt Kalil back from the brink

    by Andrew Krammer
    Updated: August 8th, 2015 9:35am

    MANKATO, Minn. -- Matt Kalil says his knees and mind are right, so now he can work on everything else.

    Kalil, the fourth-overall pick in the 2012 draft, went from Pro Bowl rookie to disheartened left tackle after chronic knee problems threw him off and forced surgeries in back-to-back offseasons. Like an unstoppable defensive end, the weekly physical rehabilitation cycle and daily pain last season wore on Kalil's mind to where he said he wasn't sure how much longer he'd play professional football with one more fully guaranteed season, 2015, left on his rookie contract.

    "You get to a point where everything hurts so much, you're like, 'OK, one more year and then there's no way,'" Kalil said. "There's a lot of things, too, besides football. Obviously I love football and I'm healthy, obviously I'm going to do everything I can like I am now.

    "But if you're not [healthy], it wears on you. If you had to go to practice and feel excruciating pain every day, it wouldn't be really fun to work with. You feel like you have to survive at practice instead of get better and work on your skills. You know what I mean? That's what it was like last year. It's all good now, I'm healthy."

    He hasn't missed a single NFL snap in three seasons, despite dealing with back, shoulder and knee problems, among others. The knees were Kalil's crumbling foundation in a career-low 2014 season. After the team's Dec. 28 season finale, he said he visited Dr. James Andrews, the surgeon for stars who repaired Adrian Peterson's torn ACL before his 2012 MVP season, and decided to undergo double arthroscopic knee surgery in January -- marking his second knee procedure in 10 months.

    Kalil also underwent other remedies this spring to reduce further inflammation and joint pain in both knees.

    "After that, I was a million times better," Kalil said. "Just from the swelling alone and all the stuff floating around. That's what was killing me. Anytime you have inflammation, it's not good. [Surgery] helped me immediately, obviously did some other stuff. It was a long road in rehab to get to where I am right now.

    "No knee pads, nothing wrong. It's nice to not think of that and think of other things -- like blocking the guy, the technique to take to block that guy, the play."

    The long road of rehab ended after the Vikings' Organized Team Activities in June, Kalil said, and he was able to begin building with healthy legs during mandatory minicamp and the five weeks before training camp. Since he was able to work out (squats, deadlifts, etc.) without pain, Kalil said he tacked on roughly 20 pounds.

    At one point this summer, Kalil said he weighed 328 pounds and decided to drop down to 315 before camp. He said that weight went mostly into his legs, which are "twice as big" as they were last season. His knees have held up to the extra weight, Kalil said, and now he's focused on regaining the form he lost while playing through poor health, which wore on his demeanor -- possibly compounding the problem.

    During the first two weeks of training camp, he has worked individually before and after practices to refine his craft entering a crucial 2015 season. The Vikings picked up his fifth-year option (injury-only guaranteed), but a healthy Kalil can be cut after this season at no further cost to the team.

    "You want to stay on the same team your whole life. That's my goal," Kalil said. "Play well, the rest is history."

    During his individual work, he can be seen stepping through the motions of his pass protection sets, other moments Kalil is crouched and slamming his palms into a padded cement wall, working on a 'punch' technique that offensive line coach Jeff Davidson said was one of the best he'd seen from a college tackle when the Vikings drafted him in 2012.

    "I think he's working on trying to get that back, again that's a whole part of the confidence factor," Davidson said. "Is he where he needs to be? That's a fair question and really the response is, I'd say I hope he would say that he's got a long ways to go.

    "Once he hits the field, we're just trying to make sure the technique comes along and the confidence, because that's a big part, too, of playing this game. Being able to play fast and play with confidence."

    Kalil had every reason to be confident in his standout rookie year, being a top-5 pick after starting two seasons at left tackle for the University of Southern California. His confidence was high enough to forgo his senior season in college to make the NFL leap, where he allowed just a few sacks and helped pave the way for Peterson's historic season as a rookie in 2012. That year ended in Hawaii, and the good vibes stopped once he struggled in the 2013 season opener against Detroit's heavy hitters along the defensive line.

    An uneven sophomore NFL season culminated with a 'minor clean-up' on one of his knees in late spring of 2014, forcing him to miss most of the Vikings' offseason program and admittedly had him playing 'catch up.' That set the stage for Kalil's worst professional campaign last season, when he allowed 10 sacks and two Defensive Player of the Week awards to opponents in Week 2 (Chandler Jones) and Week 6 (Ziggy Ansah). The down year came to a head in the Nov. 24 matchup against the Green Bay Packers, when he was flagged for a career-high three penalties and got duped by a fan asking for an autograph, only to be jeered once he approached the crowd. The interaction, ended by Kalil flipping a hat off the fan's head, made widespread headlines like Deadspin.

    Kalil then rebounded. His play leveled out in the final five games, with the turnaround moment coming in a phone call from his older brother, Ryan Kalil, the center for the Carolina Panthers. Where Kalil's knees failed to support him, he said his family has always been there to pick him up.

    "Last year, when I thought I was struggling for the most part, my brother called me and said I'm doing fine, just relax," Matt Kalil said. "That's kind of where I bounced back in the second half of the season. It's things like that, family like that. My brother has been there, he's there to help me, and guide me along the way."

    Kalil talks with his first football family, his dad, Frank, and older brother, Ryan, after every game. Before the Vikings' Nov. 30 game against the Panthers, Ryan Kalil said on a conference call that he could tell the negative attention was affecting Matt's performances.

    "The thing that hurts them is just everybody telling him he's letting the team down, and that's not what he wants to hear," Ryan Kalil said in November. "I don't think he's the problem with Minnesota not having a better record. I don't. I think there's a lot of different things that go into a season not being as good as you want it to go, and we're dealing with the same kind of stuff [in Carolina]. I don't think it's one person. But that's easy coming from me.

    "It's one thing when you're hearing it every day. And even if you turn off the Twitter and you don't read the articles, you know what the conversation is, just based off the questions you're being asked daily, you know? It's frustrating. 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."

    Matt Kalil keeps his circle tight, leaning the most on his fiancée, Haley, who he proposed to in May. He got rid of his Twitter account last year, opting to keep a private Instagram account as his main social media outlet. He keeps in regular contact with his family, including his mother, Cheryl, and sister, Danielle. His parents have bounced between the Panthers and Vikings training camps this summer: "I don't think many people have that support system," Kalil said.

    Staying in his own world helps repair Kalil's once-fractured confidence, which he's still building up after fixing the root of the problem in his knees. He'll get his first game test on the surgically-repaired knees Sunday, when the Vikings open the exhibition slate in the annual Hall of Fame Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    "Right now, I'm feeling a lot more confident," Matt Kalil said. "I'm winning a lot more now against [teammate] Everson [Griffen], it's not so lopsided as it was at the beginning of camp. That comes with confidence. I have to get my confidence back and get to where I need to be. I'm blocking him more consistently, I'm more consistent in pass protection. Just need to keep getting better, working extra after practice to sharpen everything up. It's all positive.

    "I'm really determined to bounce back this year and have a good season."

  2. #2
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    Mar 2006
    It sure sounds like Matt Kalil is headed in the right direction. Every Viking fan sure hopes so, but I still have my doubts. It's one thing getting beat by Everson Griffen, but I've read reports that 3rd round pick Danielle Hunter has also been beating Kalil. The Vikings need Kalil as much as anyone on the team to perform well this year. Kalil is the key to the having a solid OL.

  3. #3
    I have my doubts too, as any realistic person would right now. I'm glad the Vikings are taking it slow and hedging their bets with Clemmings and the late round picks at OT. He might surprise me and play up for a contract extension, but right now he's a couple of bad games or an injury setback away from seeing his last snaps as a Viking imo.

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