BY JIM THOMAS Friday,
February 24, 2012 12:05

INDIANAPOLIS • Matt Kalil says his father never forced football upon him or his brother Ryan. But once they chose football? Well, the dynamics changed.

"If we wanted to play football and we wanted his help, it was gonna be his way or he wasn't gonna help us," Kalil said.

When Kalil decided early in high school that football was his sport, "dad's help" meant: "Hours on end going to the park, working on my technique. Watching film in high school and coming home on the weekends in college and going over film with my dad, and basically doing everything I can to become a better player."

When his father Frank said "Let's play football" that meant working on kick-steps and offensive line drills. As a freshman at Servite High in southern California, Kalil tried to play tight end.

"My dad went on the field and said, 'No, he's playing left tackle,'" Kalil said, smiling. "That pretty much ended that dream."

So maybe there was no way of avoiding it. Maybe this was meant to be. His father was an offensive lineman, an 11th-round pick by Buffalo in 1982 who ended up playing two seasons in the old USFL.

His brother Ryan was a second-round draft pick by Carolina in 2007, who has blossomed into a three-time Pro Bowler who last year became the highest-paid center in NFL history with a six-year deal worth nearly $50 million.

There's something to be said for bloodlines, and offensive linemen — highly-successful ones — seem to be what the Kalil family is all about. And Matt Kalil may be the best of the bunch.

"I think your chances are good that if a guy comes from a family of great players, he might be a great player," Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert said. "That doesn't guarantee anything, though. ... Genetics are obviously a huge part of lineage. But having grown up and been around the game and seeing what those before them did to be great players, it probably would help."

Kalil has all that going for him and more. The University of Southern California product arrived at the NFL scouting combine widely regarded as the top offensive tackle in the 2012 draft. Others, such as Iowa's Riley Reiff, Stanford's Jonathan Martin, and Ohio State's Mike Adams, should go in the first round. In fact, Martin said Thursday he considers himself the best tackle in the draft.

Short of an unforeseen stumble or injury in the pre-draft process, Kalil is the only one in the group who figures to be a top-five pick April 26. Most mock drafts have him going to Minnesota at No. 3 overall. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman did nothing Thursday to dispel that notion.

"He has all the (footwork) and skill set that you're looking for," Spielman said. "He has the arm length. He has the nasty demeanor. The finish — when you watch him on tape — to finish run blocks. I feel he's going to be a very good left tackle in this league as he grows in the position and moves forward."

He certainly will be a player the Rams study with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. True, in Jeff Fisher's 16 full seasons as head coach at Tennessee, the Titans never selected an offensive tackle in the first round. Then again, the Titans had an anchor at left tackle for 13 seasons in Brad Hopkins, including Fisher's first 11 seasons as head coach.

It's not as if the Rams have gone nuts selecting offensive linemen in the first round, either. In 17 seasons in St. Louis, the Rams have had 20 first-round picks and used just three of them on offensive tackles. Orlando Pace, taken first overall in 1997, made seven Pro Bowls, was voted to the NFL's all-decade team for the 2000s, and is a potential Hall of Famer.

The other two first-rounders? Not so good. Alex Barron, chosen 19th overall in 2005, was a tease who at times flashed elite-level skill but too often disappointed with costly penalties and blocking breakdowns. Jason Smith, chosen No. 2 overall in 2009, has been a huge disappointment in part because of concussion problems that cost him large chunks of his '09 and '11 seasons.

The decision for Fisher and general manager Les Snead is what to do with Smith. Do they bring him back, give him another shot at playing right tackle, and see what new offensive line coach Paul Boudreau can get out of him? Or do they release him, move on, and free up $2.5 million of salary cap space?

If the Rams choose the latter, Rodger Saffold could move to right tackle and Kalil could move in at left tackle to protect Sam Bradford's blind side.

"That'd be all right," Kalil said. "I'd like to protect any quarterback. Quarterback is a big part of the offense. So wherever I go, I'm definitely going to work my butt off to make sure that guy never gets hit."

The lean, 6-foot-6 Kalil has worked on adding bulk and strength this offseason, trying to allay any fears that he's anything less than the total package at his position. He weighed in at 306 pounds in Indianapolis after playing the 2011 season at 300 or lower.

"I have no doubt I'll do well on bench (press)," Kalil said. "I've always worked really hard in the weight room. I have nothing to hide. I know I'll put out good numbers."

And if any scouts, coaches, or team executives ask for his opinion, he'll be glad to tell them who's the best at his position in the Class of 2012.

"I would definitely say I am the best tackle in the draft," Kalil said. "Confidence is definitely a big part of your game. They want to hear that you think you're the best tackle, and I think I am. I've worked hard going through SC, working on any little thing I can to become a better player, and I'm definitely ready to take my skills to the next level."