Hard hits, INTs, fines? Smith does it all

Vikings safety Harrison Smith has had an eventful first half of his rookie season. Whether he is getting in training camp scuffles, getting fined heavily, putting another statement hit on a receiver or returning an interception for a touchdown, Smith stays very even-tempered.

Through the first six games of his young NFL career, Harrison Smith gained the reputation for hard hits and drawing nearly $37,000 in fines because of those hits.

On Sunday, Smith proved he has another element to his game when he had the Vikings' fourth interception of the season and became the first Vikings rookie to return an interception for a touchdown since 2003.

Smith's 31-yard return for a touchdown on the Cardinals' first play of the second half turned out to be the deciding points. It also gave him a chance to show off his play-making moves.

"I think the hard hits are fun to watch. It'll get the team hyped up and stuff like that, but when you get turnovers, touchdowns on defense, that really helps the team on the scoreboard," Smith said. "It's always good to do that."

It was especially good for a Vikings team that was struggling on offense and could use the scoring boost from the defense. The fact that it came from a safety – and a rookie, at that – made it all the better for Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, who has seen his share of lackluster secondaries during his tenure with the team.

"It's a breath of fresh air, some of the things that he's doing and has been doing throughout the season," Frazier said of Smith. "The tackles, the presence that we have with him, and to be able to find a way to get that ball in the end zone, that was a good run by Harrison. But it came off the pressure. A guy being in position who had a chance to make a play made the play, and that's what you need."

The Vikings have only four interceptions this season, but all of them have come from the secondary – two from veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, one from rookie cornerback Josh Robinson and Smith's on Sunday.

Smith said he isn't big into memorabilia and he forgot about the ball after the interception, but Kevin Williams brought it to him. Still, Smith wasn't sure what he would do with it – perhaps giving it to his parents.

He may have momentarily lost the ball, but he kept a better eye on Arizona quarterback John Skelton and read his intentions to perfection. He saw Skelton getting forced up in the pocket by pressure from the defensive line, and even before that Smith can be seen working his way upfield to receiver Early Doucet, the intended target before the safety jumped in front of him for the interception and used his high school running back skills to score from 31 yards out.

"I had some freedom on that play and to watch (Skelton's) eyes. I was in the right place at the right time," Smith said.

"I was already tired when I was running. Once I got in, I was just excited to get in there, but at the same time I was like, ‘Alright, I've got to get on the field next so let's go get this oxygen.'"

Despite the fines for two hits – one on a defenseless receiver in the preseason and one for a horse-collar tackle of Robert Griffin III – Smith has stayed aggressive. That might not always be the case, especially for a rookie, but Frazier is glad to see Smith's level approach.

"Sometimes when you get fined as often as he's gotten fined in these first seven games, it can tip your emotions and make you start playing a little tentatively. That hasn't been the case with him. He's been aggressive. He's still in tune with everything we're trying to get done. He doesn't seem to be sidetracked by anything that happened," Frazier said.

"I remember explaining to him about the horse-collar and what happened a week ago against Washington, talking him through it again, although we've covered this before. And he said, ‘OK, I understand,' and he just moved on. That's the attitude you want to see, but that's not always the case, even with veterans. His resiliency, his maturity is very, very impressive. He's a bright guy, and very, very athletic, but his maturity, not letting stuff hang onto him that can be negative, it's impressive."

Smith doesn't seem to be affected by much of anything, good or bad. When he got into a training camp shoving match, he stopped to talk to reporters, downplayed the incident, saying there was nothing personal about it and no intent to prove anything, and quickly moved on.

When he was fined for the hit on the defenseless San Diego receiver, he took responsibility for it and continued his hard-hitting ways.

"That's just how I've always tried to be on and off the field," Smith said. "Just learn from your mistakes, but at the end of the day I'm not going to try to slow down my play or play softer. I'm just going to try and play within the rules and play at a high tempo."


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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The fact that it came from a safety – and a rookie, at that – made it all the better for Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, who has seen his share of lackluster secondaries during his tenure with the team. \"It's a breath of fresh air, some of the things that he's doing and has been doing throughout the season,\" Frazier said of Smith. \"The tackles, the presence that we have with him, and to be able to find a way to get that ball in the end zone, that was a good run by Harrison. But it came off the pressure. A guy being in position who had a chance to make a play made the play, and that's what you need.\" The Vikings have only four interceptions this season, but all of them have come from the secondary – two from veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, one from rookie cornerback Josh Robinson and Smith's on Sunday. Smith said he isn't big into memorabilia and he forgot about the ball after the interception, but Kevin Williams brought it to him. 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