Golden Domers proud to play together

The Vikings more than doubled their number of Notre Dame players this offseason, leading to a number of different ways to assess a handful of Vikings who were formerly with the Fight Irish. They talked about what it means to have been at Notre Dame and how it translates to the NFL.

Back in 2008, the Vikings were hoping they found a steal of a pick in the second round of the draft. Safety Tyrell Johnson played at small-school Arkansas State, but there was plenty to like about his athleticism.

After four seasons and numerous opportunities to grab a full-time starting job, the Vikings finally gave up on Johnson and let him hit the free-agent market. Four weeks after Johnson signed with the Miami Dolphins, the Vikings drafted two safeties.

Neither was from a small school. In fact, both were from Notre Dame, where the bright lights of the national televisions cameras shine on the players each weekend during the football season.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has talked on several occasions about drafting players from schools that have received heavy media exposure, hoping it is an indicator that they can handle the pressures of the NFL media spotlight. For Harrison Smith, who became the Vikings' second first-round pick of 2012 when the Vikings traded up to get him, he had even more pressure than the average Notre Dame player. He was also their captain.

"Going to Notre Dame and being a captain, you're already on a big stage. And then once you're the captain you're getting scrutinized, win or lose," Smith said. "You know, there's ups and downs along the road. So I have dealt with being a leader of a team that's gone through things. Knowing how to deal with guys and helping younger guys interact with the coaches. Being the guy in between the players and the coaches, I think it's just given me a whole lot of experience you can't really find in any other role."

Now Smith comes in as the rookie himself, but it's hardly unfamiliar territory. The coaching staff is new to him, but there are plenty of familiar faces that, just like Smith, used to be shielded under the golden dome of the Notre Dame helmets.

When the Vikings selected defensive back Robert Blanton in the fifth round of the draft, he became the fifth former Fighting Irish on the join the team. Tight end John Carlson and center John Sullivan are the elder statesman of the Notre Dame fivesome now in purple and gold, having been in the NFL since 2008. But while Carlson just returned to Minnesota after playing for Litchfield High School, then Notre Dame and the Seattle Seahawks, Sullivan has is the most experienced in the Vikings' ways.

Even so, the three Notre Dame additions this year were a welcome sight.

"I am sure there will be a lot of football gambling going on this year. You know, I have been kind of on an island for a while as far as Notre Dame goes until Kyle came here and then John Carlson) comes in, Harrison was a nice surprise when they traded back into the first round and picking up Robert is great," Sullivan said. "He's been a guy when you watch Notre Dame games is always making plays. Hopefully (he will) come in here and help us out."

"Kyle" is Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings' second-round pick last year at tight end. He and Carlson are expected to be starters in an offense that should feature the tight end position prominently. Sullivan is the starting center. Smith is expected to start at one of the safety positions, and Blanton has a legitimate chance to earn a starting safety spot alongside Smith in a position that was a weakness for the Vikings last year.

"I have to embrace (the pressure to start). Who doesn't want to start? Why would you play the game if you don't have that competitive fire to go out and compete every day?" Smith said. "To me, I think it's an honor for them to think highly enough of me to come in here and spend such a high pick on me. I want to back that up. I want to make them right. I want to come in here and learn my assignments and make plays and just hit the ground running."

When asked about all the Notre Dame connections after the draft, Sullivan knew the exact count immediately. The Vikings have five Notre Dame players on their roster and all could be starting in 2012.

"It's always fun to see some Domers around here. I'm for it. Bring more in," Carlson said. "I think we have five now. Let's get some more."

Smith said Sullivan and Rudolph texted him right after the safety was drafted 29th overall and said all the Golden Domers now in purple and gold have a "close bond" and are excited to play together in the NFL.

A few of them were asked what a team gets when it acquires a Notre Dame alumnus. Sullivan smiled at a leading question about whether they bring a high level of intelligence. Carlson called it a "loaded question."

"I'd like to think that we're disciplined guys," he said. "The mental side of the game is a big part of the game, so the mental preparation is something that we take pride in. I like to think that we're physically gifted enough to play at this level, too. Hopefully the total package."


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"Back in 2008, the Vikings were hoping they found a steal of a pick in the second round of the draft. Safety Tyrell Johnson played at small-school Arkansas State, but there was plenty to like about his athleticism. After four seasons and numerous opportunities to grab a full-time starting job, the Vikings finally gave up on Johnson and let him hit the free-agent market. Four weeks after Johnson signed with the Miami Dolphins, the Vikings drafted two safeties. Neither was from a small school. In fact, both were from Notre Dame, where the bright lights of the national televisions cameras shine on the players each weekend during the football season. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has talked on several occasions about drafting players from schools that have received heavy media exposure, hoping it is an indicator that they can handle the pressures of the NFL media spotlight. For Harrison Smith, who became the Vikings' second first-round pick of 2012 when the Vikings traded up to get him, he had even more pressure than the average Notre Dame player. He was also their captain. \"Going to Notre Dame and being a captain, you're already on a big stage. And then once you're the captain you're getting scrutinized, win or lose,\" Smith said. \"You know, there's ups and downs along the road. So I have dealt with being a leader of a team that's gone through things. Knowing how to deal with guys and helping younger guys interact with the coaches. Being the guy in between the players and the coaches, I think it's just given me a whole lot of experience you can't really find in any other role.\" Now Smith comes in as the rookie himself, but it's hardly unfamiliar territory. The coaching staff is new to him, but there are plenty of familiar faces that, just like Smith, used to be shielded under the golden dome of the Notre Dame helmets. When the Vikings selected defensive back Robert Blanton in the fifth round of the draft, he became the fifth former Fighting Irish on the join the team. Tight end John Carlson and center John Sullivan are the elder statesman of the Notre Dame fivesome now in purple and gold, having been in the NFL since 2008. But while Carlson just returned to Minnesota after playing for Litchfield High School, then Notre Dame and the Seattle Seahawks, Sullivan has is the most experienced in the Vikings' ways. Even so, the three Notre Dame additions this year were a welcome sight. \"I am sure there will be a lot of football gambling going on this year. You know, I have been kind of on an island for a while as far as Notre Dame goes until Kyle came here and then John Carlson) comes in, Harrison was a nice surprise when they traded back into the first round and picking up Robert is great,\" Sullivan said. \"He's been a guy when you watch Notre Dame games is always making plays. Hopefully (he will) come in here and help us out.\" \"Kyle\" is Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings' second-round pick last year at tight end. He and Carlson are expected to be starters in an offense that should feature the tight end position prominently. Sullivan is the starting center. Smith is expected to start at one of the safety positions, and Blanton has a legitimate chance to earn a starting safety spot alongside Smith in a position that was a weakness for the Vikings last year. \"I have to embrace (the pressure to start). Who doesn't want to start? Why would you play the game if you don't have that competitive fire to go out and compete every day?\" Smith said. \"To me, I think it's an honor for them to think highly enough of me to come in here and spend such a high pick on me. I want to back that up. I want to make them right. 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