The strangest injury of Harrison Smith’s athletic career will sideline the Vikings’ best safety for the third time in the past four games.
“No setback,” Smith said after sitting out Friday’s practice. “It just wasn’t as good as I was hoping.”
In this case, “it” is the bum left leg Smith has been dragging around since the two-minute mark of the first quarter vs. Green Bay on Nov. 22. He’s on the injury report with “knee/hamstring,” but says, “It’s all the same injury; it’s all right there” in the same area.
Smith was healthy and the Vikings led the Packers 6-3 late in the first quarter when Green Bay lined up on second-and-1 from the Vikings 25-yard line nearly a month ago. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was in the pistol formation. He took the shotgun snap, turned to his left, faked a handoff to running back Eddie Lacy and pivoted to throw short right to receiver James Jones.
The ball got stuck in Rodgers’ hand, causing it to hit the ground almost immediately at the line of scrimmage. Twenty-one players on the field eased up as the play ended. But Terence Newman, who didn’t get a clear look at Rodgers’ release, rushed in from his left cornerback position and went down hard to pick up what he thought was a fumble.
Smith and his left knee were just standing there, but boy were they ever in the wrong place at the wrong time. Newman’s impact hyperextended the knee, causing Smith to limp off but miss only five of 77 snaps that day.
A couple of weeks ago, Smith was asked if he had ever suffered a stranger injury. “Not really,” he said.
But this is Harrison Smith — one of the NFL’s more physical safeties. A story was coming.
“I used to get hurt in basketball from time to time,” he said. “Like running into the bleachers, I got hurt once.”
“I was diving for a loose ball and I got like 13 stitches up here [upper lip] and like 30 stitches in my right knee,” Smith said. “It was like a really nice stadium. So the bleachers were like concreted in. The seat won and I lost.
“But I did save the ball. But right when I got back in, the teammate that I saved it to passed it to me and I was like …”
“I called a timeout,” Smith said.
As for his current injury, the feeling was Smith would be OK since he made it through the Packers game. But he was inactive against the Falcons the following week.
That positive feeling returned when Smith started a week later against Seattle. But it lasted only 10 plays and less than two series before Smith further injured the leg in the 38-7 loss.
“Hamstring” was added to the next week’s injury report and Smith hasn’t played again. He missed the loss in Arizona and practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday and Thursday before shutting it down again on Friday.
So 10 days after playing the Cardinals without four defensive starters, the Vikings (8-5) already have ruled out Smith and linebacker Anthony Barr (hand/groin). They have also listed two other defensive starters — end Everson Griffen (shoulder) and nose tackle Linval Joseph (foot) — as questionable.
With Smith out and strong safety Andrew Sendejo expected to return, the Vikings’ options at free safety are undrafted rookie Anthony Harris or veteran cornerback Terence Newman. Harris started at strong safety last week after a practice squad promotion. Newman started at free safety while rookie first-round draft pick Trae Waynes replaced him at cornerback.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said the team uses player input as part of the process to determine who can play. That requires a lot of trust.
“I’m pretty honest with them,” he said. “I expect them to be pretty honest with me.”
Smith said the Vikings “do a great job of listening to us.”
He said it’s hard to admit he can’t play, but …
“If you can’t run with people and you can’t break [on the ball], you’re only going to be out there one play anyways. And you’re going to have to come out after you give up a touchdown or something. It speaks for itself.”