As one of the NFL's first-round draft picks with his contract already signed, Harrison Smith is expected to be a starter for the Minnesota Vikings this year.
To date, however, Smith has been running with the second-team defense in organized team activities as Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond continue to take first-team reps in practice. They are the incumbent starting safeties from the end of last season, but Smith is using the OTA practices to concentrate on getting better rather than having a starting job handed to him.
"To me, it has never really mattered. When you come out to practice, you come out to get better and if I can come out and get better every day, that's what I'm out here for," he said.
In an interview Wednesday, he hammered home the importance of the details to his position.
"I feel pretty confident in the calls and stuff like that, but it's the details that make a good player a great player. That's what I need to get better at. And then just learning formations better, learning what offenses like to do in certain situations, being a situational player. All that stuff adds up to being a great player," Smith said.
"Really, at the end of the day, it's all football. But here and at the pro level you're going to have more calls than you did in college, so you're going to need to know the ins and outs of those calls against every different formation that you get. So it's really just having complete knowledge of everything that we do, where in college you just kind of had a little piece of it."
Smith's predraft NFL profile said he is rarely caught out of position, and he had the statistics at Notre Dame to back up the assessment.
He started 47 of 51 games – 32 at safety and 15 at three different linebacker positions – recording 309 tackles (ninth in Notre Dame annals), 3½ sacks and 18½ tackles for losses. He also had seven interceptions and broke up 28 other passes (second in school history).
But all that success didn't happen without effort and the 29th overall draft pick remains committed to learning the details of his assignments with the Vikings.
"There's not one thing that jumps out, but there's taking perfect angles every time, aligning perfect every time. Against this formation maybe I should be at 7 yards versus whatever. I should be inside leverage as opposed to outside. Just different things like that," he said when asked where he wants to improve in the near future.
"… It's just each play has its own little details against formations and it's really just honing in on those. That can be the difference in making a game-changing play, so that's what it's about."
That could be part of the attitude that helped Smith earn Notre Dame's Nick Pietrosante Award, given for the player that best exemplifies courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and pride. He also earned second-team All-American and first-team All-Major Independent honors from The NFL Draft Report.
Smith remains humble, saying he's made "plenty of mistakes" during the Vikings' early practices, but he also espouses a desire to constantly get better, no matter how much more comfortable he becomes with the new defensive concepts he is learning.
"We were talking about this the other day," he said. "You've got to play like you're never going to arrive, so no matter how good I get or what I progress to, there always will be something to get better at. There's really no end point, it's just getting better every day."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Smith patient with role, focused on details
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