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Shutdown Corner

The Shutdown Corner Interview: USC OT Matt Kalil, Pt. 1

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Matt Kalil works out at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. (Gatorade)

Beyond the inevitability of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III going first and second in the 2012 NFL draft, and name you hear most at the top of everybody's boards is that of USC left tackle Matt Kalil. There are many good reasons for that; you just don't often get a guy who has played at Kalil's level for a long time in a legitimate pro-style offense at the second-most important offensive position. That's why most mock drafts you see have the Minnesota Vikings taking Kalil with the third overall pick; even if the Vikings trade down to let a Ryan Tannehill-crazed team move up to get the Texas A&M quarterback, there's no doubt that Kalil is the best offensive lineman in this draft class -- in fact, it could be argued that he's the only tackle worth a true high first-round grade.

Not satisfied with the game tape that has already made him a whole bunch of money at the next level, Kalil took his pre-draft workouts from Athletes Performance in Arizona to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute in Bradenton, Fla., to zero in on the things that will ensure his optimal performance at the NFL level.

According to Gatorade, "The testing will evaluate various aspects of an athlete's performance (of which sports nutrition habits will be assessed) to identify strengths and weaknesses. Based on this assessment, GSSI will work with them to improve these identified weaknesses and give them the best chance to perform at their best. The testing protocol includes body composition, aerobic capacity, anaerobic capacity, sports nutrition, cognitive performance, eye-hand coordination, reaction time, movement speed, reaction time, and hand-grip strength."

In other words, it ain't just about who can deadlift the most anymore. If you would like to learn more about the Sports Science Institute, go to facebook.com/gatorade and click on the Win From Within tab to view G360. Additionally, you can join the Gatorade conversation at #winfromwinthin.

That's where we started the interview when Kalil took time to talk with Shutdown Corner recently -- while Part 2 of our conversation gets into the hardcore football stuff, I wanted to first ask him about the things I have noticed in pre-draft training in the last year -- players and teams are adopting more advanced methods and standards to insure optimal performance.

Shutdown Corner: I wanted to start by talking about the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, because that's part of a new trend in player training and evaluation. I've seen and taken tests that deal more with cognitive function and eye-hand coordination, and it certainly seems that there is now a lot more to the player development process than 40 times and vertical leaps. Could you talk about the testing you went through with Gatorade, and what you discovered about yourself as a player? And how much of that advanced testing and training was a function at USC?

Matt Kalil: In college -- training for the combine and training for the NFL -- that's two different things. Coming from college, you focus on football skills, and things that correlate to football movement. But when it was January, and I was training for the combine, you kind of get in-depth -- more than college. In college, you'll have sheets that tell you what to eat, little guidelines like that. The more I've gotten into it, and the closer it comes to the NFL draft, my knowledge of eating healthy and lifting the right weights, and even having a different sleeping pattern ... everything changed. Whether I was at API in Arizona, or now at IMG in Florida, testing with Gatorade, all the knowledge I've gained when it comes to how to treat my body and perform better has helped me tremendously. I've learned a lot about when you put into your body and what you eat -- it's what you get out of it. That's where a lot of athletes get into trouble -- they think they can eat McDonald's every day and perform at a high level, which isn't true. I mean, your body needs to get good food to sustain a good level.

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Matt Kalil at the 2012 scouting combine. (Getty Images)

With working out, it's not so much like college, because there's a lot of power-lifting [there]. The season's obviously a lot shorter than in the NFL, and in college, a lot of the workouts we do are built for short seasons. It really doesn't wear on you as much. In the NFL, visiting a lot of teams and talking with a lot of strength coaches, it's more about maintaining your body and taking care of it, than pointing it throughout the whole season. If you go to the playoffs in the NFL, that's double -- that's two college seasons. So, pounding your body every week; that's going to wear you down before the season's even over. Just getting good workouts in, and sustaining your body, and taking care of your joints, and all that. Overall, my knowledge of how to take care of myself, and different football things, has completely changed from when I came out of college.

Shutdown Corner: Reading about those advanced tests -- I'm wondering how much you think teams take the idea of how quickly you process things into the whole player evaluation matrix. As a left tackle, when you're facing a dime cluster blitz, or other advanced NFL defensive concepts, you've got to pick up six or seven different things on the fly. What did they test you on, and how did you do? Obviously, you're a smart guy -- I've never met a dumb left tackle in my life -- but how did the testing process stand out to you?

Matt Kalil: What really stood out to me were the eye tests. I never really knew that you could exercise your eyes to become more aware of the whole environment. To play left tackle, or to be an offensive lineman, you have to have great eyes, and excellent peripheral vision. Defenders are looking for anything to give the play away, so if you look right at him ... you have to be able to look straight ahead. But at the same time, you have to see off to the side while looking straight ahead, to see any kind of safety rotations or blitzes coming from opposite sides. Doing those eye-training drills -- that's what I'm going to keep doing after I come from here, because I feel it's really effective. It gives you a head start, because your body movements all start with your eyes. The faster your eyes are, the faster you can be, and in the NFL, it's all about who can get off the ball faster.

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