Carolina Panthers

Why Panthers OT Matt Kalil’s solid debut will be followed by a rough day in film room

Matt Kalil talks about finally being able to play football with his older brother Ryan Kalil

Carolina Panthers offensive linemen get rear opportunity to play on same team
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Carolina Panthers offensive linemen get rear opportunity to play on same team

It was only two series, and Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Matt Kalil offered that caveat himself in the locker room after Wednesday’s exhibition victory against Houston.

But during those two series, against one of the more fearsome pass-rush combinations in the NFL, Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt, Carolina’s left tackle played well, keeping Clowney from getting to quarterback Derek Anderson.

In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Carolina’s starting offensive line (minus center Ryan Kalil, who took a veteran day), did not allow a single quarterback pressure against Houston’s first-team pass rush.

“Yeah, that was a good test for me in my first game back, against a guy like (Clowney),” said (Matt) Kalil. “He’s a strong dude, but I think I fared well against him. He got me on a couple of run plays, but I’m knocking the cobwebs off. That’s what the preseason is for, to kind of get those things out of the way.

“I think if I were in more than two series, as the game goes on, I would have fixed them.”

I didn’t know Kalil in Minnesota. I do know that in the years since his rookie Pro Bowl season, there were times he very visibly struggled.

According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed nearly six sacks, 40 quarterback pressures and seven penalties per season during the four years after his rookie season (including 2016, a season he missed half of to surgically repair his hip).

And an entire year spent sitting on his couch, watching football from afar, and slowly healing from surgery was a struggle too. Kalil said that because he had played for so long through the injury, he had to re-learn the way his healthy hip and adjacent muscles work. Plus, there was certainly a little rust he had to shake off in his Carolina debut.

“A lot of nerves,” Kalil assessed of his return to the field. “It’s nice to get back on the field and kind of feel that rush of playing football again.”

There seems to be an air hopefulness about Kalil. He truly thinks he can be the player he’s supposed to be in Carolina. Perhaps it’s the time he spent away from the game put his own play into perspective, or perhaps it’s this fresh start.

It starts with the little details, hammered home by run-game coordinator John Matsko, who is known for honing in on the minutae of a lineman’s game. The two have been working together all spring and into training camp on Kalil’s footwork and hand placement.

Kalil caused a bit of a stir on social media last week, when he said Matsko was “the first guy I’ve played for that kind of demands excellence from his offensive line room.”

He clarified his comment a bit on Wednesday night, saying that specifically the attention to detail Matsko pays to his technique is not something he has had in a coach “in a long time.”

The line, which gave up just one sack on Wednesday (a product of second-and-third team action), will watch film Thursday, and Matsko will nitpick.

“Something we might miss or not think is a big deal, he hones in on,” said Kalil. “Regardless of whether we thought we had a good game or not, he’s going to find something to correct for us, for the better. He cares about us and he just wants us to be perfect.

“Obviously, we’re not. But as long as he can coach us for that standard, I think we’re going to be all right.”

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071, @jourdanrodrigue

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