Chip Scoggins: Harrison Smith is ray of hope at key position

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 18, 2012 - 12:40 AM

The team's safeties have only nine interceptions in the past three seasons. Over that same time, linemen and linebackers have 11.

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Vikings Harrison Smith

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Harrison Smith inched toward the line of scrimmage until he stood across from a receiver in the slot on third-and-15.

At the snap, Smith sprinted toward the Buffalo Bills backfield. He didn't have enough time to get his hands on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, but he did the next best thing. He leaped and batted Fitzpatrick's pass down with both arms.

That singular play in the Vikings preseason home opener Friday night was significant because the Vikings coaching staff not only showed enough confidence in the rookie safety to send him on a blitz on third down, but more important, Smith made a play. A timely play that allowed the defense to get off the field.

"The coaches have kind of been saying, 'If we call your number on a blitz and you don't make a play, we're probably not going to send you again,'" Smith said. "When you hear that, you know it's time to make a play just so you can keep doing it."

The Vikings sure hope that's the case with Smith, the first defensive back the organization has selected in the first round of the NFL draft in nearly two decades. Smith started at free safety Friday and played 28 snaps in the first half of a 36-14 victory over the Bills.

He didn't see a ton of action his way as he primarily dropped into deep coverage. He collected two tackles, came down into the box in run support twice and provided coverage on the tight end off the line on two occasions.

His performance was encouraging in that he made a few plays and didn't look confused or out of place, precisely what he's shown throughout training camp. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said he saw no reason Smith shouldn't remain the starter.

"He's going to continue to get better and better as he gets more time," Frazier said. "We're counting on him to be the starter. That's why we drafted him where we did."

The early reviews of Smith have been overwhelmingly positive, fueling a belief inside the organization that he possesses the right makeup to become a future leader and long-term fixture in the secondary. It's only preseason so unbridled optimism should be tempered for now. But Smith provides a ray of hope at a position that has looked utterly bleak in recent years.

The Vikings' collective performance at safety has been a mess since Darren Sharper walked out the door after the 2008 season. In the absence of true playmakers, that position produced a catalog of missed tackles, bad angle pursuits and busted coverages. Their safeties grabbed only nine interceptions combined the past three seasons. Their defensive line and linebackers produced 11 in the same span.

Yes, the Vikings' Tampa-2 scheme restricts a safety's ability to gamble and freelance on the back end, but that doesn't explain all the missed opportunities that could have resulted in momentum-changing plays.

The Vikings believe Smith will bring that element to the secondary, but general competence would be a nice start.

The most encouraging aspect of Smith's game is his field awareness. He reads a play and reacts to it, plays under control. He just seems comfortable in that setting.

"Once you're out there on game day, that's time for you to have fun and make the plays that you know you can make," he said. "That's when you should fit in."

Smith looks like a good fit for this team. Jared Allen described Smith as "real quiet" but that's not necessarily a bad thing as long as he continues to display a competitive fire that has made everyone take notice.

Smith opened eyes last week when he nearly tangled with Percy Harvin in practice. That takes guts for any player given Harvin's status, much less a rookie in the second week of training camp. Smith shrugged off the near dustup, saying only that "it's football." He also downplayed suggestions that he plays with a hard edge and salty attitude.

"I don't really think that I have that attitude or anything like that," he said. "I think I just play hard and I love to play. I'm just going to play hard no matter what."

No need to apologize for that. The Vikings need more of that mentality in their secondary and defense as a whole. Some consistency and reliability would go a long in shoring up the safety spot, too.

Maybe Smith will even get his name called on some blitzes. He didn't do anything to discourage that idea Friday night.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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Buffalo 12:00 PM
New England
Cleveland 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Dallas 12:00 PM
Washington
Indianapolis 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Jacksonville 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12:00 PM
Miami
Chicago 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Carolina 3:25 PM
Atlanta
Detroit 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 3:25 PM
Denver
Arizona 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 3:25 PM
Seattle
Cincinnati 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA
Toronto 110 FINAL
LA Clippers 98
Boston 88 FINAL
Washington 101
Orlando 102 FINAL
Charlotte 94
Memphis 103 FINAL
Miami 95
Indiana 110 FINAL
Brooklyn 85
New Orleans 100 FINAL
Chicago 107
Atlanta 90 FINAL
Milwaukee 85
Philadelphia 71 FINAL
Utah 88
New York 129 FINAL
Sacramento 135
Minnesota 97 FINAL
Golden State 110
NY Islanders 3 FINAL(SO)
Buffalo 4
Detroit 3 FINAL(OT)
Ottawa 2
Carolina 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
New Jersey 1 FINAL
NY Rangers 3
Boston 2 FINAL
Columbus 6
Winnipeg 4 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 3
Washington 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 0
Dallas 4 FINAL
St. Louis 3
Philadelphia 1 FINAL
Nashville 4
Anaheim 1 FINAL(SO)
Arizona 2
Chicago 5 FINAL
Colorado 2
Edmonton 1 FINAL
Calgary 4
San Jose 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 3
Indiana 87 FINAL
Georgetown 91
Maine 43 FINAL
Seton Hall 72
UNC-Wilmington 82 FINAL
Minnesota 108
Georgia State 61 FINAL
Green Bay 78
Jacksonville St 61 FINAL
Jacksonville 75
Kentucky 58 FINAL
Louisville 50
Northern Ky 55 FINAL
Northwestern 76
UAB 58 FINAL
North Carolina 89
IUPUI 55 FINAL
Pepperdine 53
Santa Clara 60 FINAL
St Marys-CA 73
Oakland 56 FINAL
Maryland 72
Gonzaga 87 FINAL
BYU 80
Mercer 77 FINAL
Georgia 86
San Francisco 77 FINAL
Pacific 71
Wright State 55 FINAL
Ohio State 100
Presbyterian 65 FINAL
Virginia Tech 87
Brescia 42 FINAL
Western Ky 89
Tennessee St 46 FINAL
Tennessee 67
Kennesaw St 45 FINAL
Illinois 93
Colorado State 58 FINAL
New Mexico St 57
Portland 61 FINAL
San Diego 58
Wayland Baptist 63 FINAL
Utah State 75
Bristol University 59 FINAL
Weber State 109
Sacramento St 74 FINAL
Utah Valley U 49
Southern Utah 45 FINAL
UNLV 79
SD Christian 50 FINAL
San Diego St 72
Illinois 18 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 35
Rutgers 40 FINAL
North Carolina 21
NC State 34 FINAL
UCF 27
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 42 FINAL
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
Florida
SMU 45 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 96
UCF 64 FINAL
Houston 50
BYU 62 FINAL
Gonzaga 78
Pacific 92 FINAL
San Francisco 54
St Marys-CA 62 FINAL
Santa Clara 61
San Diego 87 FINAL
Portland 65
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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