EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. First-round draft pick Matt Kalil had quite the audience in his first practice session for the Minnesota Vikings, who selected the big left tackle from USC with the fourth-overall pick in last week's draft.
Attending Minnesota's rookie mini-camp, Kalil had his first chance to put on a Vikings jersey as he went through drills with Minnesota's nine other draft picks, 15 undrafted free agents and over 50 other players on tryouts or futures contracts Friday at Winter Park.
As he was working through drills with offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, the spectators started to make their way to the practice fields. Quarterback Christian Ponder, tight ends Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson watched the offensive linemen work from nearby. Coincidentally, the rest of the offensive line that could be starting next season with Kalil also were watching, including Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt.
They watched as the 6-foot-6, 306-pound Kalil displayed his quick feet in agility drills, watched as he practiced blocking techniques against other offensive lineman.
"It feels good to be running football plays and working on our O-line again," Kalil said. "It's been since November, so it just feels good to get back out there, knock a little bit of the rust off and come back flying out second practice."
Finally getting a chance to talk with coaches about the offense, Kalil doesn't believe his acclimation to the Vikings and the pro game will be too difficult.
"It's been somewhat of an easier transition, I guess, than some other guys since we ran a similar offense at USC," Kalil said. "So, it's a lot of the same things with basically a different language. So, it's about translating what something used to be called into what they call it here. So, it's just like taking Spanish class in college or something, just like learning a whole new terminology and all that. But I've been catching on pretty fast and I feel comfortable and confident with what I've done so far."
Minnesota is hoping for a quick transition, already naming Kalil its starting left tackle.
At first sight though, Kalil is living up to his advanced billing.
"Very impressed," coach Leslie Frazier said. "The first thing that sticks out his size. He is a big man. It's one thing to watch him on tape, but to actually stand beside him and being able to watch him against our other players here; you can see why we have high hopes for him. He was excellent today, and his ability to be able to pick up information, that was encouraging as well."
Frazier said some of the team's veterans had inquired about being able to watch the rookie camp. For Frazier it was another sign of his team's interest in the offseason program and preparation for next season.
"They wanted to be able to come out and watch and we said, 'Come out and look, just make sure you don't jump in a drill or pick up a dummy or anything like that,'" Frazier said. "It's good they want to come out and watch. They're hungry to get out there as well. The participation we've had in the offseason program has been superb. The fact that they want to come out here when they could leave and do other things on a Friday, that's a good sign. They want to be around football."
Of course, getting their first chance to see Kalil work live was an attraction in itself. Coincidence or not, Ponder and the rest of the veterans watched from an area closest to where the offensive lineman were working out.
"When you are the top draft pick, you are going to draw interest from both sides of the ball," Frazier said. "Guys are really pulling for him and want him to be successful."
And soon they'll get a closer look at Kalil, when he's protecting Ponder's blind side.
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