Harrison Smith still carries the Roy Roundtree touchdown with him.
Arguably the Vikings’ biggest snub from last week’s initial Pro Bowl roster, Smith chooses not to take his lessons from a popularity contest. It’s that 31-yard touchdown pass from then-Michigan Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson, who twice beat Smith’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish, that sticks with Smith these seven years later.
“They scored a touchdown because I was abandoning my number one responsibility and going to my second one,” Smith said last week at Winter Park. “I think they saw it, but it took a few plays and then they hit me on it.”
Smith, who led the Vikings with two interceptions and eight combined tackles in Saturday night’s 16-0 victory at Green Bay, was supposed to watch the quick throw down the seam. Instead, he lurched forward when Robinson did. The Michigan quarterback faked a designed run, bringing the Irish defense up, before he pulled up and tossed a wide-open touchdown to Roundtree.
That 2010 play during Smith’s junior season was a teaching moment, which Smith says is partly responsible for what the Vikings defense boasts at safety — an agent of chaos obsessively mindful of growth from mistakes.
“Three down the seam on that one,” Smith recalled of his responsibility on the play. “So they hit a touchdown easy and I wasn’t even close to the ball.”
Smith had made the same error earlier in the drive against the Wolverines. He jumped to his second duty — defending Robinson’s legs — forgoing his first assignment of the quick throw down the seam. He got away with it once before the touchdown. His Notre Dame coach knew it, but he could only tell Smith once he returned to the sideline.
“That to me has always stuck out in my mind,” Smith said. “I need to think more how he’s thinking. He’s thinking on the sideline: I can’t talk to him right now, I wish I could. And then it cost us a touchdown. It’s a mind-set of trying to police yourself.”
That’s a glimpse inside the brain resting above the purple and white No. 22 and why he’s rarely caught in the wrong place. Smith put together his best game of the season Saturday, his first since the two-time Pro Bowl player wasn’t voted onto the original roster for a third consecutive year. The voting left close observers of Smith, and Smith himself, a little puzzled.
“Yeah, I mean, it was cool to get voted in [before],” Smith said. “Obviously you want those things, but whatever.”
Smith’s two interceptions of Packers quarterback Brett Hundley — Smith’s first multi-interception game — first kept Green Bay off the scoreboard, then ended the game.
At the Vikings 15-yard line — or the farthest Green Bay could venture in the first half — Hundley forced a pass to tight end Lance Kendricks. Smith looked to be in man-to-man coverage on Kendricks, trailing him before undercutting a short route for Smith’s first pick of the night.
“We were up 10 to nothing, they’re getting ready to score. That was big,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “And then really making the one to ice the game, that’s pretty cool.”
Two quarters later, Smith grabbed a Hundley throw with about two minutes left for the game-sealing interception.
“I’ve had some good safeties in my time,” Zimmer said, “but this kid is instinctive, tough, physical, great kid, smart, good leader. There’s so many adjectives you can say about him.”
There’s little doubt what Smith means to the Vikings defense.
Aside from making all the calls on the back end, according to cornerback Xavier Rhodes, Smith leads the Vikings secondary in interceptions (five), pass deflections (11), tackles for loss (six) and sacks (1½).
“I think that he’s just showing everybody who he is,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “He deserves to be Pro Bowl, All-Pro, all the accolades. He’s well-deserving. I think he proved that [Saturday].”