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Southern California offensive lineman Matt Kalil got plenty of hands-on football training at home. His father, Frank, was a standout guard at the University of Arizona and later played pro ball in the USFL.

Michael Conroy, Associated Press

Kalil exudes greatness, but is he essential for Vikings?

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER
  • Star Tribune
  • February 23, 2012 - 11:15 PM

INDIANAPOLIS - As Matt Kalil was blossoming into a big-time athlete during his adolescent days in Corona, Calif., the eager requests from his dad, Frank, came frequently.

"Let's go play football."

Only it wasn't as leisurely as it sounds. Frank Kalil, you should know, was once a standout guard at the University of Arizona, drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1982 before later playing in the USFL. So his idea of "Let's play football" didn't revolve around drawing plays in the dirt and sending his sons on nifty stop-and-go routes.

"For my dad, 'Let's play football' means let's go do kick steps and let's work O-line drills," Matt Kalil said Thursday at the NFL combine.

Frank still brought a ball along on those trips. But only, Matt joked, because his older brother, Ryan, was a budding center.

"[The ball was] for my brother to snap and then beat me up playing D-line," Matt said. "That's about it."

And Matt's attempts to stray from the trenches? As a freshman at Servite High School, he entertained a brief vision of becoming a standout tight end.

"Then my dad went on the field and said 'No, he's playing left tackle,'" Kalil said. "That pretty much ended that dream."

Hey, on the bright side, all that focus has paid off. Matt Kalil is now the No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in this year's draft and a top candidate for the Vikings to snag with the third overall pick.

The consensus scouting report on the Southern Cal star is glowing. Kalil is big, measuring in Thursday at 6-6 and 306 pounds.

He's smart. He's physical. He plays with an aggressive edge.

Plus he has good bloodlines, with Frank's pro experience and Ryan's success over the past five seasons with the Carolina Panthers.

So let the record reflect that Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman counts himself among the many believers in Kalil.

"He has all the footwork and the athletic skill set you're looking for," Spielman said. "He has the arm length. He has the nasty demeanor and 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."

But that's not the issue. As Spielman entertains the idea of trading out of the No. 3 slot or possibly using that pick for a skill position player, he's continually wondering just how necessary a standout left tackle is to making the Vikings' offense click, a conundrum he has nine weeks to figure out.

"Is the left tackle that important or is it more important to have playmakers on offense?" the Vikings GM asked. "Because when your quarterback evolves, he learns the system, he gets the ball out of his hand quicker and all of a sudden that left tackle doesn't need to be a Pro Bowl left tackle. He can be a functional left tackle. Because the quarterback evolves and he has playmakers."

Sure, Kalil might be touted as a guy who will start from Day 1 and seems likely to be a perennial Pro Bowler. He's a guy being labeled by many as the best offensive line prospect since Cleveland drafted Joe Thomas third overall in 2007.

On the surface, for a Vikings team that allowed 49 sacks in 2011, logic says Kalil would be the no-brainer pick if available at No. 3, a big-time difference-maker at a position of need.

But ...

What if the Vikings determine there are other positions with greater importance to their future? And what if they believe they can pluck another talented tackle later in Round 1 (via trade) or early in Round 2?

Clearly, the Vikings' future seems heavily staked on Christian Ponder's rapid development. So now Spielman must find the proper catalysts.

"That's the burning bush question," Spielman said. "Is it more important to get a left tackle or is it more important to get the playmakers around [Ponder]?"

If it's the former, the Vikings must be careful not to over-think things.

In the long run, Spielman might be best extending a welcoming handshake to Kalil with a familiar invitation: "Let's go play football."

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