Dec 23, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Minnesota Vikings tackle Matt Kalil (75) smiles after the game against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium. The Vikings won 23-6. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

Top 25 Vikings of 2014: No. 16 OT Matt Kalil

Our countdown of the top 25 Vikings of 2014 continues with the player at #16…

OT Matt Kalil

Why is Matt Kalil not higher on this list? What happened in 2013 that caused Kalil to regress? The answer may not be as simple as we think.

Certainly, injury played a part in Kalil’s development being slowed. 2013 was a miserable year for him from a health standpoint, and health problems are still an issue as we head toward training camp.

But was there more to Kalil’s struggles last year than just the injuries?

I think back to Matt Kalil in his rookie season, and I remember how tough and physical he played, the mean streak he showed at times. Mauling people in the run game. Getting up the field like a beast. Finishing off blocks with a little extra business. Matt Kalil was a little bit nasty, despite his seeming happy-go-lucky personality.

But in 2013, the on-field mean streak disappeared. Kalil seemed to almost play tentative at times. Was that partly due to injury? No doubt. But I have to wonder too if coaching didn’t play a part in Kalil losing some of his nasty streak.

I go back to preseason 2013, a game against the San Francisco 49ers. Early in the game, Kalil is called for a pair of unnecessary roughness penalties and gets yanked by Leslie Frazier. After the game, Kalil said he felt he had played too “lackadaisical” the week before against Buffalo and needed to step up his intensity.

That extra intensity led to penalties, and a benching by Frazier, who apparently felt the need to rein Kalil in. At the time it seemed like nothing, but you have to wonder about Kalil’s subsequent passive play. Is it possible that reining Kalil in, curbing his mean streak, asking him to dial back his intensity might have robbed him of the edge he needed?

I wonder if Leslie Frazier might not have taken the wrong approach with Kalil, not just in that preseason game but throughout the year. I wonder if a coach like Jim Harbaugh would have tried to discourage Kalil from getting nasty. I wonder too what approach Mike Zimmer will take with a player like Kalil, who seems to operate better when he’s a little out on the edge.

There’s no question that Matt Kalil needs to get healthy in 2014 if he wants to get back on track toward becoming a perennial Pro Bowler at left tackle. But he also needs to get back some of that fire he showed in his rookie season. He needs to forget the Good Guy Frazier way and rediscover his mean streak.

If he does, he’ll wind up a lot higher than #16 come next year.

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