Harrison Smith was all smiles upon arriving for training camp earlier today, but the fourth-year safety is determined to improve his already impressive play for the Minnesota Vikings. After a year where he hauled in five interceptions, recorded 92 tackles, and finished second in PFF’s rankings of safeties, Smith could easily enter camp a complacent player. But after his Saturday afternoon press conference, Smith is clearly approaching 2015 as a chance to prove he’s possibly the game’s best safety.
When asked what specific areas he’d like to improve, Smith wasn’t shy, making it clear that his game is far from perfect:
“There are a lot of things. Really things in every area,” he said. “One for example would be becoming a better blitzer, getting better pressure on the quarterback when I get a chance to go. You can improve on in every area especially myself. There’s too many areas to list but definitely a lot of things come to mind.”
Despite finishing the 2014 season with three sacks (second among non-defensive lineman), Smith feels there’s still room to grow in Zimmer’s complex defensive scheme. Per PFF, Smith rushed the passer on 6.5 percent of the defenses’s 635 passing downs last year, ranking in the top 15 of all safeties. As Andrew Krammer noted in his offseason film study of Smith, the Vikings’ strong safety was asked to rush the passer far more often in 2014 than in previous years — 41 pass rushes in 2014 versus four in 2013 and 15 in 2012.
Smith’s versatility will be vital to Mike Zimmer’s defense this season, but his leadership will also be important as the team tries to find a starting strong safety. He acknowledged that the coaching staff is responsible for “developing the players best and teaching them technique,” while his role will be forming chemistry, “especially with the young guys.” Most important in Smith’s mind is developing trust with his teammates in the secondary:
“Communicating well with them and having some confidence. They can trust you and come to you and ask you questions. It just makes everybody feel more comfortable. Especially on the back end in the secondary we work together and I think just having trust with another is key. I think when the young guys can count on you, then that helps that trust come along much faster.”
This may be more important than ever, as players like second-year safety Antone Exum and undrafted free agent Anthony Harris look to fight for Robert Blanton’s job at strong safety. Bloggers, reporters, and the national media have analyzed the situation in detail, but Smith is confident in each of the team’s options. When asked to address the competition, Smith called every safety “a smart player,” noting that intelligence in the secondary and understanding your responsibilities are “the number one things to do the job.”
Before wrapping up his time on the podium, Smith acknowledged Adrian Peterson’s return to the team. Like fans across the country and other players in the locker room, Smith is glad to have Peterson back:
“He is such an unbelievable player and a great locker room presence as well. All of us love playing with him, love having him on our side, so I am just happy that he is back.”
He may be smiling in the picture at the top of this story, but Harrison Smith is all business as training camp begins. Fans should be excited to see his continued development under Mike Zimmer, and hopefully, a well-deserved contract extension after the season.