The conventional wisdom was that, when the Vikings moved back into the end of the first round of April’s draft to select Harrison Smith, he would likely be an automatic starter from day one. With former starters Tyrell Johnson and Husain Abdullah not re-signed, the anticipation was that Smith would step in as a starter and be running with the first-team defense in the same way Matt Kalil was installed as the first-team left tackle.
However, that hasn’t happened … yet. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams has put part-time starters Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond on the top line of the depth chart and taking the vast majority of the reps with the first-team defense. Smith is working his way into more first-team snaps but hasn’t made it there on a full-time basis yet. While Smith is hoping to get there, like Williams, he is staying patient and trying to lessen his own learning curve.
“It’s feeling a little more natural every day,” Smith said. “Every time you learn a new defense, even if some of the calls are similar to something you had before, the coaching points are different. Just getting used to it is what I’m focused on.”
Whether it means being the third safety to start the season or battling for a starting job through performance in practice and in the preseason, Smith isn’t pressuring himself to get named a starter. His focus is on grinding through the dog days of training camp and letting his hustle and effort do his talking for him when it comes to trying to convince the coaching staff that he’s ready.
“I’m not focused on being a starter,” Smith said. “In the end, those decisions aren’t up to me. All I can do is play as well as I can and pick up this defense as quickly as I can as we move forward. I’m just focused on getting better every day and helping the Vikings however I can.”
Many rookies can find themselves a bit overwhelmed by the complicated schemes that NFL coaches draw up and expect to be executed. That is why so few rookies start and why coaches consistently talk about second- and third-year players in terms of “a light bulb coming on” or “the game slowing down.” Smith may be an exception to that rule. While other rookies have their heads spinning with the terminology and nuances specific to the Vikings defense, Smith is wanting more. He loves the challenge and wants to break out of old habits and absorb more of the new defense every day.
“The volume of plays that we’re running is a lot more here,” Smith said. “I wish there was more. (Defensive backs) Coach (Joe) Woods told me that I’ve done things for four years the way you were taught to do them and now we’re trying to change that in three weeks. The more reps I can get, the faster that process will go.”
Smith is confident that, at some point, he will be a full-time starter with the Vikings. While most believed that process would begin Sept. 9 when the Vikings meet the Jacksonville Jaguars in the regular season opener, Smith is willing to take his time, learn his craft and wait until the moment is right. He still has that goal in the back of his mind, but realizes that he won’t get anointed into the starting lineup. He’s going to have to earn it and, if it doesn’t come right away, he won’t hang his head.
“If it happens, it happens,” Smith said. “Jamarca and Mistral are taking most of the first-team snaps and they should. They’ve been here and were starters last year. I’m coming in here trying to prove myself. I haven’t proved anything yet other than showing I’m willing to hustle and work hard to improve. Everybody on this team wants to be a starter. If it happens, it will happen in its own time. All I can do is keep pushing and let the coaches know that I’m ready when they call on me.”
As the Vikings return to practice, they will be without Adrian Peterson again. He won’t even be working out on his own on a side field at Minnesota State, Mankato as he has done the first week of camp. Peterson made a court appearance in Houston today concerning the night club incident with off-duty police officers in July that led to Peterson being charged with resisting arrest.
One of the primary beneficiaries of the loss of Greg Childs for the season may be Michael Jenkins. The veteran receiver has excellent height and was viewed as one of the team’s best red zone options because of the size mismatches he can create with smaller cornerbacks. In an ideal world, it was thought that Childs could take over that role with the offense and potentially make Jenkins expendable. With Childs done for the year with two torn patellar tendons, Jenkins’ spot on the roster is likely much more solidified than it may have been when camp opened.
It would appear that Bryant McKinnie and Chris DeGeare are having it out in the Twitter universe. They had a Sunday exchange in which DeGeare claimed McKinnie was “built like a bag of onions,” to which McKinnie replied, “shut ur mailbox body up lol.” McKinnie was bragging up the fact that he had finally passed his conditioning test and was able to join his teammates, prompting a jab response from one of his former teammates.
Another former Viking and current Raven – center Matt Birk – is having more than his share of problems as he prepares for his 15th season. He has missed the last five days of Ravens camp with back issues and is likely to miss the Ravens first preseason game this week against Atlanta.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.