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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Setting roots in Minnesota, Matt Kalil says he’s healthy entering pivotal season

By Andrew Krammer

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Kalil’s roots are growing stronger in Minnesota, just as he enters a pivotal 2016 season with the Vikings.

Kalil came to Minneapolis as a Californian from birth to playing football for an Orange County high school and the USC Trojans. Though his trips back have become fewer through the four years he’s spent in Minnesota. Here he met his future wife, Haley, and proposed to her on the waters of one of the 10,000 lakes. And they’re set for a July 8 wedding in St. Paul, just a few-minute drive down the interstate from U.S. Bank Stadium.

“I might be in Minnesota the rest of my life,” Kalil said Thursday. “So we’ll see.”

Whether or not Kalil’s NFL career continues in Minnesota hinges on his play this upcoming season.

The Vikings made him the fourth-overall pick in 2012 and he’s now playing for a new contract, whether in Minnesota or elsewhere. The organization made another hefty investment in Kalil when general manager Rick Spielman exercised the fifth-year option worth $11.096 million, second on the team to Adrian Peterson ($12 million).

Kalil, who turns 27 in July, shrugged off the pressure Thursday at the Vikings annual playground build taking place at Linwood Monroe Arts Plus Elementary near St Paul.

“I set the bar high my first couple of years. I have to get back to that,” Kalil said. “You could say last year was a contract year, too. If I didn’t play well, they could’ve done whatever they wanted. I played well enough to where they’re confident I’m going to keep staying on the rise, keep improving my play.”

He was one of the road graders paving the way for Peterson’s historic MVP season in 2012, earning Kalil his first Pro Bowl honor. He looked like a home-run draft pick before injuries contributed to deteriorating play over the past few years. Kalil underwent surgery on his left knee in May 2014, leaving persisting problems through that season. In January 2015, he underwent arthroscopic operations on both knees from Dr. James Andrews. He’s also dealt with back, hip and shoulder injuries in his career.

Through all that, Kalil didn’t miss a NFL snap until December, when he exited the Vikings’ lopsided Week 16 win over the New York Giants with a shin bruise. Though he’s still playing through ups and downs, evident by a strong outing against Kansas City’s Tamba Hali followed by 35-year-old Dwight Freeney beating him for the game-losing sack in Arizona last season. His availability didn’t always translate to reliability, as he surrendered 33 quarterback hurries, the third-most on the Vikings’ porous 2015 line, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Vikings changed the structure around him as he’ll have a third different left guard, Alex Boone, next to him in as many seasons. First-year offensive line coach Tony Sparano is Kalil’s second position coach in five years. All for what could be Kalil’s final audition for a long-term extension in Minnesota.

“It’s a little extra motivation,” Kalil said. “Obviously I want to stay a Viking the rest of my career. Play for four or five more years, or who knows how much longer I can play. I want to compete and play at a high level as long as I’m in the NFL.”

Kalil said he feels optimistic after seeing more consistency in his play while feeling relief in his knees. Without needing any procedures, Kalil said he was in the weight room by February as opposed to June, July or August.

“Yeah, there’s absolutely no pain in my knees anymore,” Kalil said. “My hip feels awesome. I’m feeling pretty good compared to a couple years ago when my knee was kind of garbage, so to speak. It’s nice to be healthy, that definitely made me mentally tougher throughout the year. Grew up a lot, so just ready to play and have fun.”

The post Setting roots in Minnesota, Matt Kalil says he’s healthy entering pivotal season appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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