Brian Flores Labels One of His Guys Hall of Fame-Worthy

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The defense has been quite a pleasant surprise for the majority of the season. Defensive coordinator Brian Flores took over from dismissed coordinator Ed Dontatell to fix the disastrous unit. The talent is still shaky in some spots, but the defense has improved drastically, although they turned back the clock to previous seasons in the last two games after shutting out the Raiders.

Brian Flores Labels One of His Guys Hall of Fame-Worthy

Before the season kicked off, all Vikings fans would’ve been happy with an average defense, and well, they got one. The Vikes rank 12th in EPA/Play, 13th in yards allowed, 10th in points allowed, 9th in yards per play allowed, and they have forced the 17th-most turnovers.

Brian Flores Labels One of His Guys Hall of Fame-Worthy
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For a few weeks, it looked like the defensive unit could turn into one of the elite ones in the league, but allowing 57 points in the last two games against Jake Browning’s Bengals (including three straight touchdowns in the fourth quarter of the game) and Jared Goff’s Lions ruined that dream.

Regardless, it has been a nice change to actually watch a defense that can create a stop every now and then. A big reason for that is Flores and his interesting scheme that features a lot of blitzing and eight-man drops.

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For some players, the scheme is a much better fit than Donatell’s, like linebacker Jordan Hicks or safety Harrison Smith. Both look like completely different players who excel in their roles. Flores was complimentary of veteran Smith and talked about the traits that make him great.

He’s very bright, he’s very talented. There is a want-to and a belief in himself and a belief in his skillset. He has really been awesome to work with. I think he’s Hall of Fame-worthy, I think he has already kind of, I don’t want to say cemented that but there should certainly be a conversation around that whenever he decides to move forward. Hopefully, it’s not anytime soon. But he’s tough, he’s smart, the game is important to him, he has fun and I think that’s one thing you see, there’s a lot of joy when he is playing football. He’s a great teammate, he makes people around him better … he’s just great to work with.

My first position in this league was with the safeties so I have a pretty good feel for anyone who’s played in the last 15-20 years and he’s up there as far as the guys that have been most productive and to really just have played the amount of snaps he’s played is just incredible and just a testament to the work that he puts in, his durability, that’s a big part.

Brian Flores about Harrison Smith

He also mentioned that his professionalism helps the younger players in the safety group develop, and he is a measuring stick for all of them.

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Smith, indeed, has put up unbelievable numbers. He has played in 181 games (including postseason) and racked up 1,076 total tackles, 20.5 sacks, and 35 interceptions. Smith is a six-time Pro Bowler and was an All-Pro in 2017. Vikings fans know he should’ve gotten some more accolades. He has been that special.

The 29th pick in the 2012 draft coming out of Notre Dame has been a durable player. Besides a foot injury that kept him out of eight games in 2013, he only suffered minor injuries, missing no more than three games per season.

After a year in which he looked visibly slower on the field, he has returned to some of his previous heights, although his athletic abilities are no longer at an elite level at almost 35. However, a player with his experience can use his football IQ to see plays before they happen, helping him age more gracefully. That ability has helped him in recent years.

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Flores uses Smith more like Mike Zimmer used to, as a versatile safety who can blitz or drop deep on any given play. For that reason, he has tied his career-high of three sacks but also logged 85 tackles. One thing he hasn’t done in 2023 is catch a pass. Lining up more often in the box is a big reason for that. It would be his first season without an interception since 2016, his only year without having one.

Smith has been one of the elite safeties of his generation, and he has never been an off-field headache. All he does is play football at an extremely high level without causing any problems. Very few players have been as professional as him while playing at a Hall of Fame level. The All-Pro snubs might ultimately cost him a trip to Canton, but the football people in the NFL know about his excellence.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt