MANKATO, Minn. -- A youngster approached while I spoke this week to Matt Kalil. As Kalil discussed the challenges of his first training camp with the Minnesota Vikings, the youngster grabbed hold of his right leg and held on for dear life.
No, the young man wasn't Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder. He was the son of a team employee who got lost in a sea of players. But if all goes according to plan -- and to this point of the summer, there is no reason to believe otherwise -- Kalil will provide Ponder and the entire Vikings offense comfort and security for years to come.
A few days here at Minnesota State University, Mankato, revealed that Kalil has not been overwhelmed by the task of opening the season as the Vikings' left tackle. He has had his hands full during team drills against All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen, but what has the Vikings most encouraged is that Kalil has set aside individual defeats in the name of progress.
"He's had his moments where it's been a little bit tougher against Jared," coach Leslie Frazier said, "but he's won some battles as well. He has not backed down. … He comes back well … and doesn't hold his head down. He doesn't pout. He ends up responding in the right way. That lets you know this guy is going to be a pro. He's not going to be sulking and forgetting about another play coming up."
Kalil's arrival is part of a stabilization of the Vikings' offensive line, one that has allowed them to practice almost exclusively with the five players who now almost certainly will open the season against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The only competition was at right guard, between second-year player Brandon Fusco and veteran Geoff Schwartz, but Schwartz reportedly has been set back by the development of a sports hernia.
So rather than spend time rotating competitors in and out of the lineup, the Vikings have the opportunity to develop some continuity as the preseason begins next week. It wouldn't be possible without Kalil, whose time against Allen this summer has at least given him a look at almost everything he'll see from opponents this season.
"Jared is a real explosive guy but he's also good with his hands and good with all of his different moves that he does," Kalil said. "It's just better for me to face a guy like that and try to see everything. Bull rush, inside move, outside move. He does it all. There's nothing I won't see in games that I haven't done against Jared."
If anything has stood out to me, it's Kalil's energy and athleticism. Perhaps it's rookie naïveté, but Kalil takes his practice blocks as far downfield as he can, often ending 10 or more yards past the line of scrimmage on a run. You'll also notice him chasing plays aggressively as the ultimate security blanket.
"It's definitely an emphasis for me to finish downfield," Kalil said. "[Offensive line coach Jeff] Davidson makes a good point. You never know what can happen. You can grab a fumble or be there if something bad happens. It's always good to get downfield to be there or try to make that last block. Basically, the more effort, the better."