As the Vikings start their first full week of training camp, Monday afternoon is the first padded practice in which hitting will be allowed. Head coach Leslie Frazier said that, following a CBA-required off day Sunday, the Vikings are ready to start popping pads so the coaching staff can get a better look at what they have.
"This will be our first day in full pads and we're all excited about that," Frazier said. "We get a chance to play football the way it's played on Sundays. That will be a good chance for our players to give us a good chance to evaluate (them). We're all excited about that."
While the Vikings are looking forward to hitting, one player who will likely be pulled aside and reminded that this afternoon won't be an actual game and the hitting doesn't need to be at full speed is safety Harrison Smith. As a rookie, Smith drew the ire of the league office, getting fined twice for big hits and thrown out of a game for touching a referee. However, Smith learned from his mistakes – and his lighter paychecks – and found a balance between his aggression and playing within the rules.
"There were moments later in the season that he began to understand the importance of staying on the field," Frazier said. "One game he was taken off the field last season because of his over-aggressiveness. That hurts our football team. He learned as time went on to temper that but still be a very good football player. I've seen that maturation this offseason."
However, it was that heavy-hitting nature that made Smith a first-round draft pick that the Vikings traded back into the end of the round to draft in 2012. All of the positive attributes he had at Notre Dame transferred to the NFL and he quickly became a sparkplug of the defense.
"We knew physically he had the attributes to upgrade our secondary, but his composure and the way he played with no fear," Frazier said. "That was a good thing to see – how poised he was in tough situations, the big plays he made for our football team and the leadership he provided by his example. He was a ‘rah-rah' type of guy, but he made plays that lifted the rest of our defense. He was a security blanket for our secondary in a lot of ways. He gave us something that we were lacking and we needed in his rookie year."
Asked to elaborate on the "no fear" remark, Frazier added, "(He had) no fear of failure – he played with a controlled reckless abandon. He wasn't afraid to take chances, which allowed him to make plays. You don't always see that in rookies. They kind of sit back and let the game come to them. He was aggressive. In turn, it helped the rest of the guys in our secondary just feeding off of some of his playmaking ability."
Today's first full-pad practice will include working on red zone and third-down situations, a couple of aspects of the Vikings' game in which they struggled on both sides of the ball at times last season.
"Both are critical areas we want to improve on in this 2013 season," Frazier said. "We have a lot of work to hopefully accomplished today."
The players may have been in Mankato for a few days already, but Monday afternoon is the first big evaluation. Frazier and the coaching staff were looking forward to hearing the sound of pads colliding, because it meant more thorough analysis of the players and they can make a last impression on the coaching staff.
"You want to see how guys respond – if they're willing to tackle or how good (at tackling) they are," Frazier said. "At the same time, if you're an offensive guy, you want to see if they can break some tackles and make people miss – just find out a little bit about what they can and can't do and hopefully get a little better in some of those things we may be deficient at in that first time when we're live."
If they can just remind Smith to dial it back a little bit during padded sessions, everything should be good while the "real" training camp workouts start in earnest.
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.
Harrison Smith had a hard-hitting, playmaking rookie season, but the Vikings are looking for a…