Matt Kalil talks about finally being able to play football with his older brother Ryan Kalil
When Panthers center Ryan Kalil approaches his younger brother, and fellow offensive lineman Matt Kalil, with advice on the field, he always prefaces it by saying it’s not big brother talking but simply a teammate.
The older Kalil isn’t as diplomatic when discussing his brother’s musical tastes.
Ryan did the driving on the way to training camp two weeks ago, while Matt handled the music – at least initially.
“He got fired (from) being deejay about 20 minutes into the drive,” Ryan said. “I’m surprised I let it go that long.”
Asked about the specifics of Matt’s playlist, Ryan said: “A lot of weird house stuff. I don’t know. Something he picked up in Minnesota, I’m guessing.”
Matt laughed Monday when a reporter mentioned his brother’s comments.
“He’s an old soul,” he said. “He likes the old Frank Sinatra. He likes all the oldies. I’m a little bit into that, but not as much as he is.”
Their musical tastes notwithstanding, the Kalil brothers share a lot besides their southern California upbringing.
Both have diverse entrepreneurial interests. They sound remarkably similar in the tone and inflection of their voices.
And each will play big roles in trying to solidify a line that was hit hard last season by injuries.
Ryan Kalil played eight games in 2016 before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. He’s been limited a bit at camp, but expects to be full speed by Week 1 at San Francisco.
Matt Kalil, 28, who spent his first five seasons with Minnesota, made it through only two games last season until the pain in his hip was too much to take. Doctors performed surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip, a procedure that left him feeling like a new man.
“I know when I’m healthy and everything’s working out great in that aspect I can be a great player,” he said. “There was a lot of things I had to play through that I finally decided I had to get fixed. It’s been awesome. Everything’s feeling great. I feel like I’m finally getting my quickness back.
“It’s actually fun to go out there on the field and play with no pain.”
Finally on the field together
It’s also been fun to play alongside his brother.
Because of their age difference – Ryan is four years older – the two kept missing each other on the football field, first at Servite High and then at Southern Cal. They had resigned themselves to the fact that they’d probably never be teammates.
But then Matt was eligible for free agency at a time when the Panthers needed a left tackle to replace Michael Oher. And $55.5 million later, the Kalil brother were rolling down I-85 toward Spartanburg for the start of camp, weird house music blasting from the speakers.
“It’s been fun. We’ve always been close,” Matt said. “But even when I was in college and he was in NFL, our football seasons were always at the same time so I never got to do any family holidays when everyone would come to Carolina.”
Ryan usually would go to California to train in the offseason, but Matt would stay in Minnesota.
“So this is the most time in a long time that we’ve actually got to become closer and bond a little more,” Matt said. “It’s been great.”
Ryan, a five-time Pro Bowler, knows when to give his kid brother space. He’s tried to be helpful in making Matt’s move to Charlotte seamless, but no more so than he would any other new teammate.
“Obviously we’re brothers so we’re going to spend time together,” Ryan said. “But for the most part I think we’re teammates first here, and that’s the exciting part.”
More than football
Ryan, 32, has already started on his post-football career, writing a handbook for NFL rookies last year and teaming with the NBA’s Blake Griffin to form a Los Angeles-based production company.
While conceding he’s not as “artsy” as his older brother, Matt’s business interests include several Pieology pizza franchises in California and Minnesota and plans to open some dessert spots, as well.
But Matt’s first priority is recharging a career that began with a Pro Bowl berth as a rookie in 2012 (when he was the fourth overall pick) before bottoming out.
According to Pro Football Focus, the younger Kalil allowed nearly six sacks, 40 quarterback pressures and seven penalties per season during the four years after making the Pro Bowl (including the injury-shortened 2016 campaign).
But the Panthers think a healthy Kalil, reunited with his brother and working with offensive line coach John Matsko, is primed for a big bounce-back.
Matt said he’s fired up to play for Matsko, who helped Oher get back on track before a concussion sidelined him last year and eventually led to his release.
“(Matsko) is the first guy I’ve played for that kind of demands excellence from his offensive line room,” Matt said.
The Kalil brothers hope Matt and Ryan’s Excellent Adventure takes the Panthers back to the playoffs. That would be quite a ride for two brothers who had never been teammates -- until now.
“It’s a situation you talk about and joke about, but never actually think that will happen,” Matt said. “It’s already a rare opportunity to get in the NFL and have success in the NFL, let alone play with your sibling.”
“We’ve always talked about it,” Ryan said. “But for it to be real is pretty exciting.”