Ryan Kalil pay­ing it for­ward with young line­men as he be­gins his fi­nal NFL sea­son

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY JOSEPH PER­SON jper­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

When he was break­ing into the NFL in 2007, Carolina Pan­thers cen­ter Ryan Kalil had sev­eral vet­er­ans will­ing to show him the ropes.

Of­fen­sive line­men Jor­dan Gross, Trav­elle Whar­ton and Ge­off Han­gart­ner took an in­ter­est in the sec­ond-round pick from South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, as did quar­ter­back Jake Del­homme.

As Kalil en­ters his 12th and fi­nal sea­son, he wants to pay that for­ward by men­tor­ing and coun­sel­ing the Pan­thers’ young line­men.

Kalil, 33, has al­ways looked out for young guys – he lit­er­ally wrote the book on it (“The Rookie Hand­book,” pub­lished in 2016). But with Kalil near­ing the end of his NFL jour­ney, his en­cour­ag­ing words and pearls of wis­dom are tak­ing on more mean­ing to those who are ben­e­fit­ing from them.

Tyler Larsen, who has been Kalil’s backup the past two sea- sons, says he’s soak­ing up as much as he can from the five­time Pro Bowler.

“He’s the best cen­ter in the league, he re­ally is,” Larsen said. “Ev­ery lit­tle ques­tion I have, with­out a doubt I’m go­ing to go to Ryan and try to fig­ure out what the best thing to do is.

“I’m just try­ing to set my game up and try to get at least some­what where Ryan is, which I have a long way to go. I’m one of the most lucky guys in the NFL right now, to play underneath some­one like that.”

Kalil pulled Larsen aside dur­ing Thurs­day’s prac­tice at Wof­ford to ex­plain some­thing fol­low­ing a 9-on-9 drill. That’s been com­mon­place through­out Kalil’s ca­reer, as coaches and team­mates at­test.

“That’s just some­thing I try to give back to the younger guys, even if they’re not ask­ing me, the guys that I think have a shot at hav­ing some longevity in this league,” Kalil said re­cently. “I try to im­part some of that wis­dom to them and just pay it for­ward that way.”

WEL­COME-TO-THE-NFL MO­MENTS

Kalil re­mem­bers hear­ing about Gross’ wel­come-to-theNFL mo­ment – get­ting put on his back by Julius Pep­pers when Gross was a rookie in 2003. When Kalil sees a young of­fen­sive line­man have a bad rep or a tough prac­tice, he tries to lift him up.

“I think the hardest thing is earn­ing your con­fi­dence in this

league. It’s a big jump from col­lege to the pros. And the faster you can trust your­self, the faster you can find your foot­ing, the bet­ter off you are,” Kalil said. “It’s easy to sort of get down on your­self. You get hum­bled pretty quickly in this league.”

Kalil speaks from ex­pe­ri­ence.

In his sec­ond ca­reer game against Hous­ton, Kalil started at right guard and gave up three sacks, in­clud­ing two to Tex­ans rookie de­fen­sive tackle Amobi Okoye. Kalil re­mem­bers get­ting yelled at by Del­homme on the side­line.

“Amobi Okoye made me look pretty bad and I was down on my­self for a while. Took a cou­ple games to kind of get out of that funk, bounce back and fin­ish the sea­son strong,” Kalil said.

“I got some more opportunities to­ward the end of that sea­son (at cen­ter), and then I got to stay in that spot ever since,” he added. “That’s a story I def­i­nitely share with a lot of younger guys.”

LIT­TLE LESSONS EV­ERY­WHERE

Kalil’s men­tor­ing is more than just pick­ing guys up and pat­ting them on the back­side. A cere­bral player who makes the of­fen­sive line calls based on the de­fen­sive looks, Kalil has a knack for point­ing out things a young guy might miss.

Pan­thers coach Ron Rivera called Kalil an in­valu­able part of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“You’ve got a veteran guy who shows ev­ery­body how to do things the right way. He’s smart and just a bright foot­ball player,” Rivera said. “So any time he sees some­thing – lit­tle nu­ances that a young guy might take for granted – he can make th­ese guys re­al­ize how im­por­tant that lit­tle thing is, that lit­tle de­tail.”

Rookie guard Bren­dan Ma­hon, an un­drafted free agent from Penn State, says he has had a “ton of con­ver­sa­tions” with Kalil through the first week­plus of train­ing camp. Ma­hon says Kalil has been a great as­set, both in the meet­ing room and on the prac­tice field.

“Com­ing off when you get the nod and the ‘good job’ from him, it’s a re­ally good feel­ing,” Ma­hon said. “But when he takes you off and teaches you – maybe you did this wrong or that – you re­ally know that he cares. And he’s been do­ing a great job.”

‘A GREAT PRO­FES­SIONAL’

Pan­thers left tackle Matt Kalil was Ryan Kalil’s orig­i­nal ap­pren­tice when the two were grow­ing up out­side Los An­ge­les. Matt is 4 years younger than Ryan, and fol­lowed him at Servite High and South­ern Cal.

“He’s def­i­nitely al­ways been kind of a men­tor,” Matt Kalil said. “I used to joke with him be­cause I’m the lit­tle brother, but he’s also like my sec­ond dad. I think him hav­ing chil­dren early on, I’m kind of like one of his kids.”

Matt Kalil says he hasn’t tried to change his brother’s mind about re­tir­ing af­ter this sea­son, call­ing it his de­ci­sion. Okoye, the for­mer Tex­ans de­fen­sive tackle from Ryan Kalil’s draft class, didn’t re­al­ize this was the fi­nal year for the Pan­thers cen­ter.

Okoye, whose ca­reer was cut short by an au­toim­mune dis­ease, says he beat Ryan Kalil with a cou­ple of “chop-club-rip” pass-rush moves in his two-sack game in 2007. He watched from afar as Kalil im­proved his tech­nique and be­came one of the top cen­ters in the league.

“He’s a great pro­fes­sional,” Okoye said. “Of course when you face some­body, you scout them. And it was a plea­sure play­ing against him.”

Kalil says im­proved health and the abil­ity to train prop­erly dur­ing the off­sea­son were the big rea­sons he came back af­ter two in­jury-marred sea­sons in 2016 and 2017.

Matt Kalil says he hasn’t no­ticed his brother get­ting par­tic­u­larly nos­tal­gic dur­ing his fi­nal camp. He called him “the same old guy” – which is to say, Ryan Kalil is still help­ing his team­mates be­come bet­ter play­ers.

“He’s been help­ing us. Even last year when he wasn’t play­ing, he’s play­ing that im­por­tant role of help­ing us out and be­ing that extra eye,” Matt Kalil said. “Peo­ple don’t know how valu­able that is.”

DAVID T. FOS­TER III dt­fos­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Pan­thers cen­ter Ryan Kalil (67) has made it a point to share his knowl­edge with younger play­ers, as Jor­dan Gross and oth­ers did for him when he was break­ing into the league. That in­cludes Mon­day, when he had a talk with his brother Matt Kalil (75) dur­ing train­ing camp at Wof­ford.

TONY AVELAR AP

Ser­ena Wil­liams pulled out of next week’s Rogers Cup.

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