Smith will have to ‘earn' starting spot

Harrison Smith isn't in the starting lineup yet and his defensive coordinator says he will have to earn it. But after hearing Alan Williams talk about Smith and hearing who Smith models his game after, it might be only a matter of time before No. 22 is a rookie starter.

One first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings, left tackle Matt Kalil, was immediately put in the starting lineup. The other, safety Harrison Smith, waits.

Smith has been practicing mostly with the second-team defense while incumbent starting safeties Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford continue their roles in the back end of the team's starting defense. That staring spot is earned, according to first-year defensive coordinator Alan Williams, the former defensive backs coach with the Indianapolis Colts.

"When guys come in and they're new, especially rookies, I like to have them earn their spot," Williams said after Tuesday morning's walk-through practice. "So even though Harrison is doing well and some of the other guys are doing well, it's important that guys earn the spot – that I don't make the decision, that the decision is based on what we see on tape. Guys will earn their spots, and when we feel like they've earned that spot or taken over that spot we'll make the change. That's really everybody that's on the football team. We're going to play the best guys, no matter what their pedigree is, where they're from, or when other people think they should be in there. Whenever he earns the spot, that's when he'll play."

Smith seems to understand that mentality and is being patient with the rookie process.

"I'm not really focused on that right now. I'm just focused on learning the defense, running to the ball on every play and being in shape and just doing what the coaches teach me," he said.

"I feel pretty good with what's installed right now. It's just the little details when you're going against a certain formation that can make you a great player."

Smith doesn't hold the same advantage that Raymond and Sanford bring to training camp – having at least a year of NFL experience on film for the new defensive coordinator to view. Still, the Vikings coaching staff got an early jump learning about Smith when they coached the North squad at the Senior Bowl college all-star game in Mobile, Ala., in January.

It was there that they were able to really get to know Smith, beyond just his physical abilities.

"We liked him from the onset at how well he moved. Everything that you may read in the papers about being smart, being a playmaker, moving to the ball well, they're all true. We just want to see how high he can rise and how quickly he can rise," said Williams, whose first major responsibility as the Vikings' new defensive coordinator came when he directed the North squad defense.

But even though Williams spent a lot of time with Smith at the Senior Bowl, the 6-foot-2, 214-pound safety has either shown new abilities or further refined what the defensive coaching staff saw from him in January at the Senior Bowl.

"Right now, he's better at everything than I really thought. He's a tall guy and usually tall guys are a little big leggy and may not be quick-footed. But right now he's excelling in that pass coverage," Williams said. "We put him on tight ends and he's been extremely effective. We'll wait to see how he does in the run game. He hasn't had any opportunities so that's one of the things that I was talking about in terms of the reps (being) limited, so we have put him in some other situations to see how he supports the run."

Smith said he didn't really study the Vikings' unimpressive recent history at the tight end position, but he certainly picked out one of the best when asked for safeties he'd like to pattern his game after.

"I remember watching Darren Sharper when I was younger, watching him make a lot of plays," Smith said.

"I really like how Darren Sharper plays. I was a big Sean Taylor fan, I was a big Deon Grant fan growing up. He played at Tennessee; that's where I grew up. Those guys always made plays and they were all over the place."

Smith proved at Notre Dame that he can locate the ball in the air, deflecting 28 passes and coming away with seven interceptions. He showed a "fearlessness" going after the ball, according NFL Draft Report, and is "much more consistent than flashy."

Also working in his favor is Williams' desire to fit his defensive system to the strengths of his players.

"We will tailor the defense to what the guys do," Williams said. "If a guy does something extremely well, we'll put him in a position to make plays."

It seems like only a matter of time before that happens with Smith.


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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Guys will earn their spots, and when we feel like they've earned that spot or taken over that spot we'll make the change. That's really everybody that's on the football team. We're going to play the best guys, no matter what their pedigree is, where they're from, or when other people think they should be in there. Whenever he earns the spot, that's when he'll play.\" Smith seems to understand that mentality and is being patient with the rookie process. \"I'm not really focused on that right now. I'm just focused on learning the defense, running to the ball on every play and being in shape and just doing what the coaches teach me,\" he said. \"I feel pretty good with what's installed right now. It's just the little details when you're going against a certain formation that can make you a great player.\" Smith doesn't hold the same advantage that Raymond and Sanford bring to training camp – having at least a year of NFL experience on film for the new defensive coordinator to view. Still, the Vikings coaching staff got an early jump learning about Smith when they coached the North squad at the Senior Bowl college all-star game in Mobile, Ala., in January. It was there that they were able to really get to know Smith, beyond just his physical abilities. \"We liked him from the onset at how well he moved. Everything that you may read in the papers about being smart, being a playmaker, moving to the ball well, they're all true. We just want to see how high he can rise and how quickly he can rise,\" said Williams, whose first major responsibility as the Vikings' new defensive coordinator came when he directed the North squad defense. But even though Williams spent a lot of time with Smith at the Senior Bowl, the 6-foot-2, 214-pound safety has either shown new abilities or further refined what the defensive coaching staff saw from him in January at the Senior Bowl. \"Right now, he's better at everything than I really thought. 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