W hen the Vikings drafted Matt Kalil in the first round as the fourth overall selection in the 2012 draft, they had to hope they would duplicate the success the team found when they drafted another USC offensive tackle with the first overall pick in 1968, Ron Yary. Yary was the first offensive lineman to be drafted first overall in NFL history and proved to be a worthy investment. He made his first Pro Bowl and was named first-team All-Pro in 1971.
Yary made the Pro Bowl every year after that until 1977 and was named first-team All-Pro from 1971-76. The Vikings won 10 division titles and appeared in four Super Bowls during his career with the team.
After one season, Kalil has appeared to carry on Yary’s legacy, starting all 16 games for the Vikings as they made the playoffs. He also was named to the Pro Bowl and the All-Rookie team.
Even Vikings offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, who has coached a number of great NFL tackles, runs out of adjectives when talking about how well Kalil played last year.
Asked what he expects this year, Kalil said: “Last year, obviously being a rookie, you kind of go into everything not really knowing the routine, not really knowing the players or coaches, and it’s kind of an uncomfortable situation. But I think now this year, knowing my teammates and even knowing my playbook, everything is a lot more familiar and I think it’s going to be a much more comfortable situation going into camp. I think I’ll do really well. I’m excited.”
One thing Kalil expects is an increased level of competition because opposing teams will have a good scouting report on him this season.
“In college there’s great players, but you face a great player every few weeks,” he said. “In the NFL, every team you go against, they have that star defensive end.
“It’s just about preparation and knowing your opponent inside and out and really studying them up. That’s the biggest thing, the speed of the game and how fast you have to adjust to different defenses and schemes and all that. There’s a lot more studying that goes into it. That’s the biggest difference from college.”
Kalil said his offseason preparation is a lot different from college.
“[In college] you have spring workouts and you have summer workouts,” he said. “In the NFL you get that big offseason and they kind of leave it up to you to find your own coach and where you’re going to go to train in the offseason.
“It’s a bit more of a responsibility and it’s on me to stay in shape and kind of be a little bit more responsible in that aspect. The NFL has such a big offseason that it’s kind of easy to do nothing and wait for the season to start. I got a coach I go to and a place I go to work out in the offseason, so I think I’m all set in that aspect.”
One player who surprised the coaches last season with his great performance was tight end Rhett Ellison, who played alongside Kalil for four years at USC.
“A lot of people asked me about him and what kind of player he was,” Kalil said. “And I think his biggest thing is he’s the type of guy that’s probably going to get there before everyone else and he’s going to be the last one to leave that facility.
“He’s easily one of the hardest workers I’ve been around playing football. It’s definitely cool to have a teammate that you played with in college, and I think he surprised a lot of people, but he didn’t surprise me at all. I know what he’s capable of doing. He’s one of those guys that because he’s so consistent in what he does, he’s going to play in this league for a long time.”
Now that the offensive line is back intact from last year, does Kalil look for an improved performance?
“I think it’s about knowing the guy you’re playing next to, and I think compared to last year, this year we’ve been hanging out a lot and we’re a lot closer unit, I think,” he said. “The offensive line, that’s a unit, we don’t like to be talked about in games. If we’re not singled out in games or if the camera is not on us, that usually means we had a good performance. I think we’re definitely closer as a unit this year. We have the same guys starting, so I’m kind of excited to see what we do this year.”
Bishop gets ready
One of the key names at training camp this year is new Vikings linebacker Desmond Bishop, who signed after being released by the Green Bay Packers. Bishop missed all of last season after tearing a hamstring after having back-to-back seasons of 100-plus tackles in 2010 and 2011. He is working at outside linebacker now but will compete for the Vikings’ middle linebacker job.
He was asked this week about his biggest challenge coming into training camp, without having participated in the offseason program.
“Probably right now just trying to remember all the names I keep getting thrown out at me,” Bishop said. “I think just getting back acclimated with football, the schedule, the playbook and learning how things are operated around here. I think that will be the toughest challenge, but once I get past that, I’ll be fine.”
• Now that Bill Bayno has left the Timberwolves coaching staff to take a position in Toronto, David Adelman, the son of head coach Rick and currently leading the Timberwolves’ summer league squad, will be promoted to assistant coach. That’s another good sign Adelman will return as coach.
• At Vikings practice Friday, Leslie Frazier was asked what was the difference between Adrian Peterson at the first practice this year and last year: “I was thinking about that as we went through our walk-through and there he is participating, whereas a year ago he wasn’t involved in those things. We had him working on the side with our trainers.”
• Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was asked if he will feel a lot of pressure after the great rookie season he had last year? “No. You kind of wipe clean what you did last year, you reflect in the offseason and you start new.”
• Drew Wolitarsky came to Minnesota from Canyon County High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., with a great reputation as a receiver and according to Gophers football coach Jerry Kill, the team’s quarterbacks see real good things in him. “They’ve been working with the kid, throwing to him, and they said everything everybody said about him is true,” Kill said. “He’s a big kid [6-3, 208 pounds] … coming out of California with the most catches in the history of [California] high school football. I think our kids are really, really excited about him.”
• Gophers basketball coach Rick Pitino talking about forward Mo Walker: “Walker has lost almost 45 pounds and you know a lot of it has been on him. Now what we have to do is put some strength on him because he’s not really explosive. We have the best strength coach in the country in Shaun Brown [newly hired from USC], who is the ultimate professional."