Southern Cal left tackle Matt Kalil spent his weekend at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute in Florida, one of his final stops before next week’s NFL Draft. Since finishing his junior season at USC and declaring for the draft in December, Kalil has become increasingly active in learning about nutrition, finding new ways to enhance his training. Over the winter, Kalil prepared for the scouting combine at the Athletes’ Performance Institute, where he says he put on about six pounds of “good weight,” building muscle with his training and refined eating habits. This weekend’s stop at GSSI was yet another way for Kalil to enhance his education.
“I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “For me, the most important thing is understanding my nutrition. I’ll admit, there were a lot of times at USC when I was working out and really not feeling too great. And I think it was due to me eating McDonald’s every lunch. It’s really not that healthy to be eating a quarter-pounder every day. So I’m slowly learning about nutrition and what to put into my body that helps you perform at a high level. This weekend, at IMG in Florida, working with Gatorade, they’ve taken it down truly to a science to show you how the athlete performs and what little steps to take to perform at a higher level. They’ve had me doing a lot of testing and teaching me about recovery and taking care of my body so that I can play for a lot of years.”
There's a chance Kalil may be spending the bulk of his NFL career in the Twin Cities, the Vikings strongly considering drafting the star left tackle with their No. 3 pick in next week's draft.
Here are some of the other highlights that came out of my brief yet enjoyable conversation with Kalil on Sunday morning.
The time that you spent visiting the Vikings recently when you were up in Minneapolis recently, give me a rundown of what all you did and who all you met with?
Kalil: I met with all the offensive coaches, especially Coach [Jeff] Davidson, who coaches the o-line and who used to coach with the Panthers and coached my brother [Ryan]. It was pretty cool seeing him up there. So I knew him pretty well. And then I met with Rick Spielman, the GM. He took me on a tour of the facilities. I also met with the weight coach and a lot of the staff. But that was about it. We also, the day before, went out to a greeting dinner. That was about it. I was off to the next place.
It was a cool visit overall. It was kind of funny for me. It was California weather up there. It was 70 degrees while I was visiting. It was cool being there. And I get drafted there, I could definitely see myself fitting in.
The debate that the Vikings will have leading up to their pick at No. 3 won’t have much to do with what your talent level is. They seem sold there that you’re everything advertised as a difference maker on the o-line. But the riddle they’re trying to solve is figuring out how important the left tackle position is to the franchise’s long-term success. As they sort that out, how would you sell them on the value that you can add to their team and their offense?
Kalil: For me, I went in there with confidence and I told them how I am. For me, the way I’ve trained all my life in football, I’m more scared to fail than I am driven to succeed. So I do whatever I can to be the best that I can be at my position. And I think I’ve done a good job of doing that. I went in there with the utmost confidence. And they asked me that question. They asked me what I could do for their team and I said, ‘Ya know, if you guys draft me, you won’t have to worry about finding a left tackle for the next decade.’ That’s what I plan to do. I plan on getting there and delivering.
And it’s not so much I’m going in with an attitude like, ‘Oh, I’m from Southern Cal’ with my chest out and my chin up in the air. That’s not how I play. That’s not the kind of teammate I am. But I think I can go in, stay humble and show my teammates what kind of player I am by the way I work hard on the field. Not really saying much but gaining the respect of my teammates by working my butt off. That’s what they can expect from me. All I want to do is be a good teammate and win games. I love to play the game. That’s what I went in there and told them. We’ll see what they thought about that come draft night.
Obviously this is a quarterback-driven league. And to have success, the quarterback position has to be productive. In your mind, what can a star left tackle do for a quarterback to help that part of the equation kick in?
Kalil: Give him time to throw. Honestly. It’s that simple. It’s about making that quarterback feel more comfortable in the pocket, that he can trust that he can get that extra read and get that extra second knowing he’s not going to be getting hit from behind or speared in the back. I think a quarterback’s confidence is everything. And I think that left tackle can definitely help a young quarterback become very successful and feel a lot more comfortable. That comes from me and what I’m willing to do to become a great player in the NFL. For me, I take the mindset that I’m starting all over again. It’s like I’m a freshman in college and I have to go in there with all the seniors, which are the vets and kind of learn from them, earn their trust and earn my place on the team.
When you’re playing your best, what do you identify as your biggest strengths and the things that you can really get going quickly?
Kalil: I have a solid overall game honestly. Run game, pass game. For me, it’s kind of like Kobe Bryant when he’s locked in on the basketball court. It’s kind of like you can’t miss a shot. That’s what happens when I get locked in. For me, I want to find that zone more often. I can play like that for 10 games. But what about the other two games? So to be a good player like a Joe Thomas or a Jake Long or any of those guys, it’s about playing at a high level all the time, not just some of the time. It comes with working your butt off in the offseason, getting in great shape, getting strong. And one of the things I learned that’s definitely helped me out a lot as I’ve grown is that the more you know about a defense, the more you know about the team you’re playing, the more you don’t have to worry about that [during the game] and the faster you can play. To me, I think that’s the most important thing. Because if you’re out there and you don’t know what you’re doing, you have to think more and you can’t react to certain things. So it definitely has a lot to do with film study and knowing your playbook which helps you play at a high level.