HarrisonSmithPic
Photo courtesy of vikings.com

On the 2nd defensive play of the 2014 season, safety Harrison Smith blitzed off the left side of the St. Louis Rams offensive line. With his athleticism, Smith was able to force Rams quarterback Shaun Hill to check down to Tavon Austin behind the line of scrimmage.

Although Early into the season, this play was indicative to the  style of defense Mike Zimmer was going to run. A defense that, at times, will show exotic formations and different coverage and blitzing schemes. Zimmer is able to run such a defense due in part to Smith, who’s versatility and nose for the football allows the Vikings to be creative and dare I say, fun to watch?

As a heads up, this is pretty video heavy, but oh so worth it.

Smith has been spending time all over the field since training camp. It is not entirely uncommon to see him on the line of scrimmage, something we rarely saw in the infamous Tampa 2 the Vikings ran previously. In this play however, Smith blitzes from 5 yards out and nearly gets to the quarterback.

The blitz against the Rams is just one of the many ways the Vikings are using Smith, who is really starting to come into his own in his 3rd year out of Notre Dame. Smith was the catalyst of an ‘improved’ secondary as a rookie, showing confidence in his run defense, but also helping secure a secondary that was admittedly poor in coverage.

Smith has already shown improvement this season and in my opinion, helps set the tone of aggressiveness in the secondary.

When the Rams game was all but wrapped up, Smith picked off 3rd string quarterback Austin Davis by baiting Davis into making a poor throw across the middle. It was easy pickings for Smith, who was shielded by Everson Griffen as he returned the interception for a touchdown.

Sure, it’s a 3rd string quarterback (oh, wait, he intercepted Matt Ryan as well), but this is the type of development you’d like to see from a 1st round safety in his third year. A nuance that shows growth in a player who is going to anchor your secondary for years to come.

Speaking of a defensive anchor, how about a safety who continues to make 3rd down stops for your defense? Smith has really been one of the only players who show up on 3rd down for the Vikings in 2014. Imagine how bad our defense would be on 3rd down without Smith. We’d never get off the field.  I’ll let the plays below do the talking:

In each of the 3 plays above, you see all of the facets of Smith’s game. His ability to add pressure to the quarterback. His ability to aggressively meet ball carriers before the first down marker to force a punt. Finally, his ability to help in coverage using his athleticism to rove large areas of field.

All on 3rd down. All to get the defense off the field. For a team who currently ranks 31st in the NFL in opposing teams 3rd down conversion rates, Smith is the lone bright spot. Who ranks 32nd, you might be wondering? The Green Bay Packers.

Although Smith is looking like he is taking a big step towards a pro bowl season, he is not without faults. He will need to continue to improve in man coverage. When Saints quarterback Drew Brees connected with tight end Josh Hill for a 34 yard touchdown, Smith was fooled by Brees’ shifty eyes and let Hill slip behind him. Let’s be honest, though, Brees’ has down that to almost every safety he’s played.

We’ve noted the flexibility Smith is giving the Vikings defense and below is yet another example. Again on 3rd down, Zimmer draws up a nice play for Smith and Xavier Rhodes to double Falcons’ Juilo Jones. At first glance, quarterback Matt Ryan should recognize Smith at the line of scrimmage. He’s likely seen plenty of this during film review, but seeing Smith drop back to double Jones probably caught him a bit off guard.

Not only does this shut down Jones’ play making ability, it might also bait the quarterback into making a quick throw due to the space Rhodes was giving Jones. If Ryan decides to make that throw, Smith takes the ball to the house. None the less, the Vikings defense forces an early 3 and out.

After spending half the season on the sideline due to injuries, Smith will have to find a way to stay healthy. If able to do so, Smith has the potential to be one of the top safeties in the NFL and the Vikings will only continue to get better on defense.