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Updated: February 23rd, 2012 9:25pm
Matt Kalil gaining weight, 'ready to take my game to the next level'

Matt Kalil gaining weight, 'ready to take my game to the next level'

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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INDIANAPOLIS -- As a high school freshman, Matt Kalil didn't even want to be an offensive tackle.

Now the All-American out of Southern California is in the majority who believe he's the best one in this year's NFL Draft.

"Especially at my position, or the quarterback position or any big-time position, confidence is definitely a big part of your game," Kalil said during his media conference on Thursday at the NFL scouting combine.

"And I think they want to hear that you do think you're the best tackle, and I think I am, and I think I've worked hard going through SC, working on everything I can to become a better player. And I'm ready to take my game to the next level."

His path to the NFL began in earnest when he was 15 or 16 years old and his father -- Frank Kalil, a onetime Buffalo Bills draft pick who played two seasons as center in the old USFL -- began taking Matt and older brother Ryan to a park near their California home for line drills.

There was a ball, but that was only so Ryan Kalil could work on snaps.

"For my dad, 'Let's play football' means let's go do kick steps and let's work o-line drills," Matt Kalil said. "My first time going to Servite (High School in Anaheim), I tried to play tight end as a freshman and my dad went on the field and said 'No, he's playing left tackle.' That pretty much ended that dream."

It also started another. Kalil is a potential target for the St. Louis Rams at No. 2 overall and the Minnesota Vikings at No. 3, a virtual lock to go in the top five.

"His brother turned out to be an extremely good player, a Pro Bowl player," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. "Kalil is very talented at left tackle. He has all the feet and skillset that you're looking for. He has the arm length. He has the nasty demeanor. The finish, when you watch him on tape, to finish run blocks. I feel he's going to be a very good left tackle in this league as he grows in the position and moves forward."

Ryan Kalil was a second-round pick (59th overall) out of USC in 2007. He has made the past three Pro Bowls and signed a six-year, $49 million contract extension with Carolina in August, making him the highest-paid center in NFL history.

"What I've learned from Ryan," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, "you can see there seem to be some family similarities just in terms of his approach to the game. He sounds like a real cerebral young man.

"Watching him on tape now. he's a different player than his brother. His brother is a more fire-out type of center, whereas when you watch Matt -- Matt's more of a position guy. He doesn't necessarily have to strike people as much as he's protecting the back side of his quarterback and just trying to be in position to block him. I think he's taller and leaner than his brother."

Kalil's bloodlines certainly don't hurt him. Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert pointed to the Matthews family, which has produced six NFL players -- Clay, Clay Jr., Clay III, Bruce, Casey and Kevin -- as evidence that "if a guy comes from a family of great players he might be a great player. That doesn't guarantee anything, though."

Kalil said the Vikings are among the teams on his schedule for formal interviews on Friday night but hasn't looked much into how he might fit there or with the Rams.

"Mostly just from watching ESPN and the news, having the TV on," Kalil said. "I need to focus on what I can do to become a better player, and wherever I go, that's where I'm going to work hard."

There's no question the Vikings need an upgrade at left tackle, where Charlie Johnson was out of position last season. However, Spielman has floated several times the idea it might be more important to surround quarterback Christian Ponder with playmakers and there is enough depth to get a functional left tackle later in the draft.

"There's the adage that you go back and forth on -- is the left tackle that important or is it more important to have playmakers on offense?" Spielman said. "Because as your quarterback evolves, he learns the system, he gets the ball quicker out of his hand and all of a sudden that left tackle doesn't need to be a Pro Bowl left tackle."

If the Vikings take one at No. 3, it's bound to be Kalil, who measured in on Thursday at 6-foot-6 and 306 pounds -- six pounds heavier than his playing weight at USC.

He said he's been working on his run blocking as well as his strength and has "definitely made vast improvements since the end of the season."

Asked about Spielman's "nasty" assessment, Kalil said, "I wouldn't say nasty. But I think I'm an aggressive player. I definitely like to finish, from the snap to the whistle and impose my will on my opponent and basically let them know that I'm on the field and I'm going to be on the field for the rest of the game."

Even if there's no chance of him touching the ball?

"I would have been a sweet tight end," Kalil said. "Maybe like an Anthony Munoz catching touchdowns."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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