Notebook: Matt Kalil aims to 'iron out wrinkles' before season opener
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- None of Robert Quinn's 10.5 sacks in 2012 came in the Dec. 16 meeting against the Minnesota Vikings, Matt Kalil's first test against the now-dominating pass rusher.
Kalil, 25, is set for his second matchup with the Rams' right defensive end in Sunday's season opener at St. Louis, however both are trending in different directions than just two seasons ago, when Kalil was nearing the end of his Pro Bowl rookie campaign and Quinn was just starting to figure it out before bursting into stardom last season.
This time around, Kalil is the one trying to bounce back from struggles -- those he realized while playing injured in 2013 and during experimental phases this preseason.
"For me, I'm still trying to get my technique and form back," Kalil said. "Thinking about the positioning of my feet, on top of that - the play - and the defender; I have a little bit going on right now, but I'll just iron out the wrinkles this week and be ready to go."
Kalil, with his surgically repaired knee, stepped into the spotlight this preseason after exhibiting some trouble with Kansas City's star edge rusher Tamba Hali, who got the better of Kalil on a handful of plays in the Aug. 23 preseason game.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner came to Kalil's defense after the game, saying 'we didn't give him any help on purpose.' Kalil, the Vikings' franchise left tackle selected fourth overall in 2012, claims he was experimenting with techniques cultivated by watching other successful players at the position with offensive line coach Jeff Davidson.
"People look at it like: 'Oh, he got beat a couple times for a sack,'" Kalil said. "But to me I look at it as preseason. I'm experimenting different sets and things I can do, it's not a big deal to me. The real deal comes when it's regular season and you solidify what you want to do."
The real deal didn't work out too well last season for the Vikings' offensive line, a unit that allowed 44 sacks, which tied for the 10th-worst pass protection in the NFL. Turning that around starts with Kalil, who protects the quarterback's blind side against the defense's best pass rusher.
"I thought I did OK [this preseason]," Kalil said. "Obviously I want to play better. Come Sunday, I think I'll be ready to go."
Making the cut
The Vikings shed roughly 25 to 30 nameplates from lockers inside the Winter Park training facility this past week as all NFL teams trimmed active rosters from 90 to 53, while adding a 10-man practice squad.
Labor Day weekend brings time off for most Americans, however for fringe NFL players - that time is mainly spent gnawing on finger nails and checking Twitter for any word of their job status.
Players that make the cut, like receiver Adam Thielen, don't get a congratulatory phone call; they just get the rewarding silence of not being told to hand in the playbook (or iPad).
"Until those final cuts are made, you don't know if you made it or not," Thielen said. "I just tried to take my mind off it, even thought about turning my phone off."
Thielen, a Detroit Lakes, Minn. native, made his mark this preseason by making plays both on offense and as a punt returner on special teams.
"Being from Minnesota and having all these Vikings fans that are friends and family of mine, it was pretty crazy [making the 53-man roster]," Thielen said. "But it's starting to calm down now."
Safety Chris Crocker joined training camp late, played just 28 preseason snaps and was let go in the Vikings' final cutdown to 53 on Saturday.
"Chris and I had talked a long, long time ago about his situation and where it was," Mike Zimmer said. "Nothing is set in gold. I've kind of told him the situation all along."
That situation was seemingly to serve as a player-coach to the Vikings' young secondary that has a combined zero regular season games for Zimmer, compared to Crocker's 85.
"He was like having a coach in the locker room, meeting room," safety Harrison Smith said. "In the plays, he could say, 'Hey, Harry, watch out for this coming up here.'"
Phil Loadholt (leg) and Linval Joseph">Linval Joseph (calf) both returned to practice on Monday, which bodes well for both players' goals to be ready for Sunday's season opener in St. Louis.
"The biggest thing is, I'm back on the field with the guys, putting pressure on it," Joseph said. "My leg is fine, actually. No problem at all."
Joseph added he's aiming to play the entire game against the Rams with no limitations.
Anthony Barr (ankle), Gerald Hodges (ankle), Rodney Smith (neck) and Adam Thielen (hip) also returned to practice after missing time last week. On the practice squad, tight end Chase Ford (foot) and defensive end Justin Trattou (shoulder) practiced.
Michael Mauti (foot), Zach Line (ankle), Brandon Watts (leg) and Mike Harris (foot) all sat out.
Zimmer doesn't expect Watts to be ready by Sunday; Mauti is expected to return to practice on Wednesday.