Notebook: Kalil found early groove
Of all the players the Vikings are expecting big things from, one of the most critical is one whose name isn't expected to be mentioned very often. Unlike quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, defensive ends, linebackers and cornerbacks – all of whom you can tell what kind of game they're having by the number of times you hear their name mentioned – when it comes to offensive tackles, the less you hear, the better they are doing. Matt Kalil was a new face to the Vikings last year as the team did a major shuffling of the offensive line. The only returning starters at the same position were John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt. This year, all five starting O-linemen are returning and they have a much more cohesive look. "In terms of team camaraderie and chemistry, especially having our entire offensive line back this year, it makes a world of difference," Kalil said. "The team as a whole, I think we're a lot closer now than we were last year at this time. Going into camp last year, there were a lot of unknowns because we were coming off a 3-13 season. We didn't know what to expect but ended up playing so well. The confidence we have and the weapons we've added just stacks on to that confidence we built last year. We've all got the right mindset and we're ready to get after it this year." The rise of the Vikings from 3-13 to 10-6 came as a surprise to many, but not Kalil. He had a feeling that the Vikings were a much better team than the one that was awarded the third overall pick in the draft. When he started studying the Vikings, he was surprised by what he saw. "When I started watching film on the team, I was shocked that they were 3-13 because they weren't that bad," Kalil said. "There's a statistic they tell us that something like 60 percent of games are decided by seven points or less. There were a bunch of games that they were in until the very end and could have just as easily won three or four of those. Last year, we had a bunch of those types of games, but we won most of them. That's what separates the bad teams from the good teams in this league." Kalil was one of the unknowns on the line last year. Although there was every reason to have confidence in him and his ability, he wasn't a proven commodity. This time around, with a year under his belt, Kalil is expecting bigger things from himself and is constantly looking to improve and refine his game. "I think they trust me a little bit more and are confident that I can handle my business," Kalil said. "My mindset is that I'm never good enough and there's always something I can work on. That's how I'm approaching my whole career. I'm always going to look at getting better at different things that I can improve." Kalil's first hurdle was tackling the unknown of how he was going to be treated by teammate Charlie Johnson. He was replacing Johnson at left tackle and was going to playing alongside him as Johnson slid inside to guard. What could have been an awkward time was made easy by the warm welcome he received from Johnson and the rest of his linemates. "It was a little intimidating," Kalil said. "I was happy to see right away that he was fine with it. He said, ‘The best five guys are goiug to start' and he was one of the starters. He took me under his wing and turned what could have been a negative into a big positive. He welcomed me with open arms and became good friends right away." Not only did Johnson and Kalil get along well, they played together with the kind of telepathy that sometimes takes years to achieve. Johnson and Kalil got to the point that they could read each other's mind and see the same things the other was seeing without having to say it out loud. "Week after week after week, Charlie and I made adjustments and we were always communicating," Kalil said. "It got to a point that we knew what the other one was going to do in given situations because we built that trust and communication throughout the year. I think that's everything – trusting the guy you're playing next to. You know you're on the same page when that happens. By the end of the season, we weren't even making calls. We knew what we had to do." Vikings fans expect to hear names like Adrian Peterson, Christian Ponder, Kyle Rudolph, Greg Jennings, Jared Allen, Chad Greenway and Harrison Smith discussed often this year. Kalil? Not so much, which means the left tackle is successful. MONDAY PRACTICE NOTES A pair of Vikings are dealing with recent deaths in their families – defensive back Marcus Sherels and offensive lineman Joe Berger. In the early portion of practice, Blair Walsh was a perfect 7-of-7 in live field goal drills. In a rarity, trainer Eric Sugarman heard fans chanting his name, commenting, "I'm glad someone other than me heard it so I have proof." There were a couple of other lighthearted moments at practice. On an Adrian Peterson run play in 11-on-11 drills, the defense decided to make a statement on the no contact provisions with A.P. When he took the handoff, all 11 defenders went down on the bellies and let him run around them. During one of the drills, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave had a still photographer on the sidelines take a couple of action shots of running backs coach James Saxon throwing passes to the backs. The Vikings wore their purple game pants for practice, apparently to get a feel for how the new pants (with pads sewn in) will feel on game day. In the hurry-up 11-on-11 drill, Walsh came running on the field to kick a 45-yard field goal. A timeout was called to ice him, but he launched the field goal straight down the middle. After the timeout, he did it again. Matt Cassel was the victim of a pick-six by A.J. Jefferson in 7-on-7 drills. The only two players not in action Monday were CB Jacob Lacey (knee) and Christian Ballard. Lacey, who had surgery Monday and is expected to miss two to four weeks. He is the only player head coach Leslie Frazier has ruled out of Friday's game. John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.