MINNEAPOLIS -- There are two things the Minnesota Vikings believe will help left tackle Matt Kalil return to his Pro Bowl level of his rookie season. The first -- a stronger support system at left guard -- could be in place if the Vikings stick with Brandon Fusco on the left side. The second -- Kalil's health -- appears to be coming along nicely, too.
Kalil said on Wednesday he is getting close to 100 percent after a pair of knee surgeries this offseason, adding he's been a full participant in the Vikings' workouts to this point after missing part of their spring program because of knee surgery in 2014.
"Definitely stronger, definitely more firm in pass protection," Kalil said. "Getting bull rush and that, got that foundation underneath me now. Just taking it one day at a time.
"From a mental standpoint and physical standpoint, it's the best I've felt in a long time."
That's probably the most encouraging thing Kalil said on Wednesday, after a year where the left tackle's play and confidence was hindered by injuries to both knees. Coach Mike Zimmer has admitted recently how much Kalil's knees affected him last season, and the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft never seemed completely sure his knees would hold up in pass sets last year.
Now, while he's still getting back to full strength, he isn't worried he's heading backward.
"[My] legs get a little dead again, then they get stronger, so it's going to take a little bit to get that game speed, game strength again," Kalil said. "It's getting better every day, rather than getting worse. So that's good."
The Vikings exercised Kalil's fifth-year option earlier this month, and he'd make $11,098,000 if the team keeps him on the roster next year (the option is only guaranteed against injury until the start of the 2016 league year). He'd probably also be in line for a lucrative new contract if he plays well in 2015, though Kalil said he's not thinking about his financial future right now.
"Honestly, I'm focused on playing well. That's my biggest goal this year," Kalil said. "Yeah, [the option] protects me against injury, but if I don't play well, it's the same result. [It] really didn't change too much. Gave me confidence that Zimmer and all those guys in the front office have faith in me that I can play well. [From a] confidence standpoint it helps, but bottom line is you have to play well."