Carolina Panthers left tackle Matt Kalil loves roller coasters — at least those that will accommodate his 6-foot-7 frame.
When he wasn’t training during an offseason when he was finally healthy, Kalil spent some time at Six Flags in Southern California. He’s yet to make it to Carowinds, and for good reason: He doesn’t fit on any of their rides.
“If they’re listening, hopefully they get bigger roller coasters,” Kalil said in front of several TV cameras Wednesdays. “So that’d be nice.”
Kalil endured an up-and-down year after signing a five-year, $55.5 million contract with Carolina in 2017. He struggled during the early portion of the season before coming on at the end.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera says Kalil has ridden that momentum into 2018 with a strong start to training camp. Both Kalil and Rivera say having a full offseason to train rather than rehab — Kalil had hip surgery in 2016 during his final year in Minnesota – has been the difference.
“He really didn’t have the type of offseason and training (last year) that you need to have to play left tackle in this league,” Rivera said. “He’s had a good offseason. He was able to train this year.”
Rivera said Kalil showed up to Wofford in good shape and has looked confident in his daily matchups with defensive end Mario Addison, who has collected 20.5 sacks the past two seasons.
“He’s competing against what I think is one of the better right defensive ends in the league. Mario’s explosive. He’s got good quickness, and I think that’s good for Matt,” Rivera said.
“He works against it every day and he’s got a better feel for what we’re doing. He’s a little more comfortable in the system. I expect him to improve and be better for us this year.”
Kalil blames his slow start in 2017 on learning a different system and sitting out nearly a year following the labrum repair. He missed time at camp last summer dealing with lingering health issues before playing all 16 regular-season games and the playoff loss at New Orleans.
“I think from Week 4 on I started playing better and better, and toward the end of the season I was playing where I want to be,” he said. “I think that carried over to (organized team activities) and to camp, and obviously I’m way ahead of the curve of where I started last year.”
Kalil is one of several offensive players who were in Minnesota when Norv Turner was the Vikings’ offensive coordinator. When Turner took the same position this year in Carolina, it forced Kalil to relearn Turner’s system a year after “unlearning” it.
He says most of Turner’s terminology is the same as it was in Minnesota. Kalil’s familiarity with the scheme — combined with the fact that he’s “feeling great” health-wise — have him excited about the season.
He’ll be playing alongside his brother a final season. Panthers center Ryan Kalil, who’s also healthy after battling injuries the past two years, plans to retire after the 2018 season.
“It’s been great, especially this last year with him playing and feeling healthy,” Matt Kalil said of his older brother. “You can tell his demeanor’s a lot better. He’s looked good out there.”
Matt Kalil, who describes himself as laid-back, has been happy to take a back seat to his brother. Now he’s doing the same thing with his wife, Haley, a former Miss Minnesota who was in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issues this year and will be back in the swimsuit edition in 2019 after she and Camille Kostek won a model search competition.
Haley Kalil also signed with the well-known Wilhelmina modeling agency in New York.
“There’s articles telling me to step aside. It’s her world now,” Matt Kalil said. “She’s been doing great. I’m happy for all the Sports Illustrated stuff that she’s done and all that.”
Kalil smiled when asked about his wife’s appearance in the SI swimsuit issue.
“I don’t even think they know about it,” he said. “So we’ll keep it on the down-low.”