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Vikings tackle Matt Kalil, on the comeback trail: 'It's the best I've felt in a long time'

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minnesota — Matt Kalil's performance for the Minnesota Vikings last season was frequently dissected, and dissed.

For him, 2014 is best left forgotten.

"What are you going to worry about last year for?" he asked. "I'm focused on this year and excited to get after it again. It's fun to play. It's fun to be out there."

Any left tackle's mistakes are usually on full display and good plays often go unnoticed. The Vikings often insisted in Kalil's defense that his struggles were being blown out of proportion, and reality is rarely as bad as it can appear at times.

Still, there was little arguing from anyone that last year was Kalil's worst of three in the NFL. Problems didn't just pop up in training camp, either. His recovery from offseason surgery on his left knee set him back in his work on technique and strategy in the new scheme under offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

Kalil just never caught up, another reminder of why coaches around the league are so concerned when players miss practice time, even in the spring and summer. There is a rhythm and a purpose to the NFL calendar, even when the games that count are many months away.

Performance without pads in June just doesn't come close to the same intensity and significance of a Sunday afternoon in September, so any improvement Kalil has shown in the last several weeks is no guarantee of better blocking in the fall.

His unrestricted participation with a fresh focus, though, at least has been giving him the best chance to succeed, unlike in 2014.

"I think he knew it wasn't his best year," left guard Brandon Fusco said. "You never know if it was his injuries or whatever he was doing, but he looks great to me. I told a bunch of other people it's probably the best I've ever seen him. He's going to have a great year. I can just tell."

PHOTO: Minnesota Vikings tackle Matt Kalil (75) stretches during NFL football practice, Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Eden Prairie, Minn.  (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Minnesota Vikings tackle Matt Kalil (75) stretches during NFL football practice, Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Eden Prairie, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Kalil had offseason procedures on both knees, hopeful of putting his health issues in the past.

"Proof of the pudding will come out when we get the pads on," coach Mike Zimmer said. "But his sets have been better. He looks much more confident. He looks much better, doing the things we're trying to get him to do."

Fusco moved to the left side to replace Charlie Johnson. John Sullivan is the valued anchor, at center. But right tackle Phil Loadholt is coming off a season-ending injury to his left pectoral muscle. Right guard is open after Fusco's switch, with last year's fourth-round draft pick David Yankey, rookies T.J. Clemmings and Tyrus Thompson, and veteran Joe Berger in the mix. The onus will be on the offensive line to give quarterback Teddy Bridgewater more consistent results, and that starts with Kalil.

"From a mental standpoint, physical standpoint, it's the best I've felt in a long time," he said. "That's all I can say."

Kalil and Fusco have been spending extra time together, trying to deepen a trust and understanding that can work for the tandem on the left side of the line in games.

"We're trying to go out a little more. Phil's kind of getting a little upset. That was his boy. So I'm going to steal him away. I told him they can't hang out anymore," Kalil said, jokingly. "No, it's all good. I think we're all a pretty close group."

One player the Vikings are aiming in 2015 to avoid a repeat of Kalil's 2014 regression with is linebacker Anthony Barr, whose promising rookie season was shortened by a left knee injury.

Barr was on the field with the Vikings for minicamp on Tuesday on a limited basis, his first practice since he was hurt last November.

"He's got to get back. He hasn't really done football in a long time," Zimmer said.


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PHOTO: Minnesota Vikings tackle Matt Kalil (75) listens to a coach during NFL football minicamp in Eden Prairie, Minn., Tuesday, June 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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