Vikings First Round Picks Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith
I remember talking with Coach (Leslie) Frazier right after the season last year and putting together a plan and a philosophy in place and that included how we were going to attack and what we needed to get accomplished down at the Senior Bowl, what we needed to get accomplished through the Combine and this whole pre-draft process. What was our philosophy going to be as we entered free agency and how we were going to attack that and now, as we entered into this draft, what we need to try to get out of this draft. We feel very good about what we were able to accomplish last night and getting two excellent football players in Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith, but I know tonight and tomorrow are even that much more important because we have an opportunity right now to add 10 more picks to help improve our roster from where we were a year ago. We’ve got a lot accomplished so far but there’s still a lot of work ahead of us over these next two days. With that, I’ll bring up Coach Frazier.
Thanks Rick. It really is an exciting time for us. To come away from the first round with two of the players that we really wanted and had really targeted to be Minnesota Vikings and I know just in sitting with Mark (Wilf) and Zygi (Wilf) earlier, as an organization both guys represent everything we’re looking for in football players as we are building our roster and building our football team for the long term. To be able to have Matt Kalil and Harrison as well, just two guys that embody everything that we’re trying to accomplish. It’s an exciting day for Vikings fans all across the country and as Rick mentioned, we have a lot more work to do. There’s more work to be done this evening and tomorrow as well. We’re off to a great start. At this point, I want to introduce our starting left tackle for many, many years to come, Matt Kalil, our first round draft pick, and you’ll hear from Harrison as well in just a moment. Two guys that we’re very proud of.
First off, I’d like to thank Mark and Zygi Wilf. I’d like to thank Rick Spielman and Coach Frazier for giving me the opportunity to play for such a great organization and play in a great city in Minnesota and to play for the greatest fans in the NFL so I’m really excited.
Q: How much sleep have you gotten in the last 24 hours?
A: Not too much sleep. A lot of traveling but it’s all worth it. It’s all worth the experience. It’s only going to happen once. I enjoyed New York and the whole draft process, sitting in the green room and being called on stage by the Commissioner and seeing the fans and everything. It was such a great experience and now I’m here in Minnesota, the team I’m going to be on and hopefully be playing for the next 10 years and I’m really excited to get started.
Q: Prior to being drafted by the Vikings, what did you know about this organization?
A: I used to watch a lot of NFL teams but there were a of times where I was watching games where
Q: What is your biggest concern in your transition to the NFL?
A: Not so much of a concern, but I’m more anxious for the opportunity to compete at the highest level which is the NFL. I’m excited to go against the best defensive end in the NFL day in and day out in
Q: Lane Kiffin (USC Head Coach) said you already bought a Ford truck. He said you’re a low key offensive linemen. Is that the way you’d describe yourself too?
A: Yeah, definitely. I’m low key. Even though I’m from L.A. and Hollywood, that doesn’t represent my personality at all. I kind of like to hang out with my friends, play a lot of football, that’s what I love to do. My dream car is a Ford truck, a brand new Ford F-150. That’s the kind of guy I am and I also love to be a good teammate and a good family man.
Q: Is that the way you were raised?
A: Just the way I was brought up in my family. I came from a small town in Corona, California where that’s all there was to do, just hang out with your friends and your family and kind of just lay low for a little bit. That’s the way I was brought up.
Q: Did you get a chance to talk to
A: Yeah, before the draft. My agency, we all got together and we had a dinner with some quarterbacks. I think (Chargers quarterback) Philip Rivers was there and Christian Ponder was one of the guys I met and I got a lot of good vibes from him. He’s a good guy and he’s definitely going to be a great quarterback of the future and it’s going to be an honor blocking for him and protecting his blindside and making sure he gets those passes off. I’m excited. I met him today as well and he looked pretty happy too. I’m definitely excited and ready for the opportunity.
Q: I heard last night that you like the cold, even if you’re from California.
A: Even though I’ve been in the snow probably once in my whole life, it’s definitely going to be a new experience but the cold doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve definitely played in some cold games which were probably my favorite and best games I’ve played in. My room is set to 50 degrees every night. I like sleeping in the cold.
Q: How convinced were you that the Vikings were going to take you?
A: I was pretty confident but with the draft, you never know what happens. When I first got into the green room and the pick started being traded and stuff, I didn’t know what to expect. When that pick came in, I was just staring at my phone, praying a Minnesota number would pop up and all of a sudden it started vibrating and ended up being picked there. I was excited. I think this is probably one of the only places I really wanted to play and could see myself playing so it is pretty crazy being here.
Q: Coach Kiffin said he never had to give you help over on that side. Is that an exaggeration at all or were your protection schemes built around you on an island?
A: I think they leaned on me to kind of be on an island over there by myself and that’s definitely the challenge of a left tackle. Especially in the NFL, you’re going to be left alone a lot and depended on. That’s why we’re drafted so high. I definitely take pride in protecting my quarterback and I like those challenges when I don’t have any help and I get mad when I get help because I want to beat that guy by myself. That’s what I love to do. I like going one-on-one against a defensive end and kind of being in that one-on-one battle. That’s always fun for me.
Q: Who are the toughest guys you went up against at USC?
A: Definitely Nick Perry, who is going to be playing for the Green Bay Packers so I’ll see more of him. Chase Thomas from Stanford was a good player. Brooks Reed from last year, he plays for the Texans now. Those are the few guys I went against that were pretty good and challenged me a lot during the game. Definitely Nick Perry, I think he made me a better player going against him day in and day out in practice for four years.
Q: What made Nick Perry so good?
A: If you saw him at the Combine, that guy looks like he’s Hercules. His biceps are bigger than my legs and he has the lower body of a horse. That, plus his athletic ability, just how strong he is and just his arsenal of moves really made games easy for me and I think that’s why I’m so excited to come here, going against Jared Allen everyday and seeing that guy’s moves. He had 22 sacks last season. I’m definitely up for the challenge and hopefully he makes games easy for me.
Q: At what point in your development did you realize the NFL was a possibility?
A: For me, I’m not so much of a long-term but a short-term goal and I believe that if you focus on things that are directly ahead of you, it will lead to better things in the future. So, for me, when I got to USC was to develop those first two years behind Charles Brown, who was an All-American starting left tackle, learn as much as I could from him, and eventually start. I started my redshirt sophomore year and I excelled and did very well and following that next year, my short term goals after the season were to gain All-American accolades and win the Morris Trophy and I think those short-term goals that I had ultimately led to me leaving early and thinking I was ready for the NFL, ready to take it to the next level.
Q: Can you describe the energy in the green room last night and how you were feeling?
A: Yeah, it was funny. I just felt like before a big game when you have butterflies in your stomach and you don’t know what to expect but I wasn’t playing anyone, I was just sitting in the chair waiting for my name to be called. It was a little different but it was kind of that big game feeling and that anxiety setting in a little bit but luckily I wasn’t in there too long.
Q: Have you always been a left tackle? Even back to when you played pee wee?
A: Freshman year to senior year in high school, I was left tackle and then my first two years at USC, I played both sides which helped a lot so I’m now able to play both right and left tackle. I’m comfortable with both sides so I think that helped a lot. I think the more positions you can play on the offensive line, the more valuable you are.
Q: You said at the Combine that you had brief dreams of being a tight end.
A: Yeah, brief dreams. I played next to a tight end so that helps out a little bit.
Q: You’re known for your good feet. Did wanting to play those positions when you were younger help that?
A: Yeah, a little bit. I think I have a little bit of tight end mentality in me. I have great feet so I think that plays a role in it but I think mostly where guys get in a little bit of trouble is they think they have to gain so much weight to play a certain position and for me, I kind of gained it gradually and slowly and kept my athleticism with that. That definitely helped me a lot, putting that weight on slowly.
Q: What do you say to critics who might knock you for not being one of the 340 pound linemen?
A: When you look at all the All-Pro left tackles today, Jake Long, Joe Thomas, those guys aren’t any more than 315 pounds and if you’re going against guys like Jared Allen, James Harrison, Dwight Freeney, those fast guys, you can’t be that heavy to keep up with them. It’s almost smart to be really strong but also have enough weight to handle those bull rushes but I think this is a game of speed and quickness so I think you have to have more quickness over how heavy you are.
Q: Is 310 pounds where you’ll settle then?
A: Yeah, about 310. Somewhere in that area.
Q: Have you spoken to Jared Allen yet?
A: Not yet. I’m looking forward to it. I’ll be here next week for rookie OTAs so I’m excited to meet some of the players and meet my future teammates.
I just want to start by saying thank you to Zygi Wilf and the Wilf family, Rick Spielman and obviously Coach Frazier for just giving me the opportunity to contribute to the Viking organization and just to be a Viking.
Q: What was it like working with the coaching staff at the Senior Bowl?
A: That’s kind of an experience that you can’t really put a price on just because the combine and pro day, that really isn’t football. The Senior Bowl you get to come in and go to meetings with the coaches, go to practice with the coaches. They see how you work, how you pick things up and how you take the teaching. So I think that’s kind of priceless. You also get to start that relationship. But at the same time, I didn’t know they were going to pick me because of that. It just kind of started those lines of communication and their evaluation of me.
Q: Does that give you a head start with the system?
A: I’m not sure. I haven’t jumped into the playbook yet. I think the familiarity with the coaches helps. I feel like I’ve known them for a little bit and that I can come in here and feel like I’m part of the team right now. We’ll jump into the playbook and hopefully I’ll be able to pick it up pretty quick.
Q: Was it a relief to be drafted in the first round?
A: It’s obviously a goal to be drafted as high as I can be drafted. At the same time, when yesterday started I wasn’t focused on, I’ve got to today because at the end of the day it’s not my choice. I was just trying to watch it and stay as relaxed as possible. Easier said than done. I just watched it and let it play out.
Q: When you saw Minnesota trade up did you think this is it?
A: I was actually on the phone with them before they traded up. They just said keep watching the TV and you’ll see it pop up soon.
Q: Is it correct that the Vikings didn’t talk to you at the combine?
A: Yeah, just pretty much since the Senior Bowl it’s been pretty quiet. There hasn’t been a whole lot of communication.
Q: Did that seem odd to you or do you understand the games these teams try to play?
A: I had no idea what was going on to be honest. I didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes. I thought I showed them who I was at the Senior Bowl. I was just kind of waiting to see what was going to happen.
Q: What makes you think you are going to be a great player in this league?
A: I think being a versatile guy. Especially now with all of these tight ends, so athletic, so big. You know they can do it all. Can you come down and cover those guys and make them less of a threat? And then just the simple things, like a good open field tackle. Do you fit within the defense? Do you do your job every play and be one-eleventh of your defense? Just the little things, I think, make great players. Instead of trying to focus on these outstanding plays that might happen every now and then, but then you give up a homerun every other snap. I think just doing my job every play and making the plays that I get the opportunity to make.
Q: Do you think it will benefit you in the NFL being a captain in a program like you were in?
A: Going to Notre Dame and being a captain, you’re already on a big stage. And then once you’re the captain you’re getting scrutinized win or lose. You know there’s ups and downs along the road. So I have dealt with being a leader of a team that’s gone through things. Knowing how to deal with guys and helping younger guys, interact with the coaches. Being the guy in between the players and the coaches. I think it’s just given me a whole lot of experience you can’t really find in any other role.
Q: How often did that tight end question come up when you were talking to teams?
A: If not every time, almost every time. Especially with Gronkowski and Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham. The list goes on and on. They are such a threat that it’s a big focus.
Q: Do you get excited about the possibility of covering those guys?
A: In college I got to cover
Q: Have you spoken with any the Vikings that went to Notre Dame?
Q: Was there a particular point in your career that you made a big leap?
A: To be honest, there is no specific instance that I realized that. I think it just kind of evolved with each practice, with each game. You just gain more confidence and understand your role better. You know what you’re capable of and you know you can bring your game to another level. I think it just kept growing on itself.
Q: Where did you play in high school?
A: I was kind of all over the map. In high school I played corner for the first three years and then safety. I played some running back and receiver. Then at Notre Dame I played some linebacker. So yeah, I’ve kind of been everywhere.
Q: When they moved you to safety did you think that was the right move?
A: I always saw myself as a safety. I was just of waiting for that to happen and then I could settle in to my role at safety.
Q: When you played USC did you ever have any collisions with Matt Kalil?
A: I was actually thinking about that while he was talking when you guys asked him about some guys he played against. I know he was talking about rushers, but I wanted to raise my hand (laughs). But I don’t know if we ran into each other or not, everything happens so fast.
Q: What is the pressure like on you to come in here and start right away?
A: I have to embrace it. Who doesn’t want to start? Why would you play the game if you don’t have that competitive fire to go out and compete every day? To me I think it’s an honor for them to think highly enough of me to come in here and spend such a high pick on me. I want to back that up. I want to make them right. I want to come in here and learn my assignments and make plays and just hit the ground running.
Q: Were you aware of the Vikings need in the secondary?
A: Kind of. But at the same time I don’t really know a whole lot about every team. I’m not inside the war room. I don’t really know what’s going on. You obviously know who might need a safety here or who might need one there. So it’s kind of in the back of your mind. But that’s not really what I was focused on while I was watching the draft.
Q: What were you hoping to prove to the coaching staff during the Senior Bowl?
A: I just really wanted to show them who I am as a player. There is no reason to be somebody you’re not and come in and sell them something they’re not going to get. So if I came in and acted totally different and they drafted me and I’m not that person, it’s not going to be a good fit. So I just wanted to show them who I was. Ultimately I think they liked that. Like I said, it’s an honor that they thought highly of me and I’m just honored to be a Viking.
Q: Do you feel you’re more of a playmaker than your stats would show?
A: Yeah, this past year definitely. I dropped a couple of balls that I could have made good plays, great plays. So those are things that moving forward I want to get better at and make them game changing plays that can ultimately win games.