Smith anxiously anticipating his return today

Safety Harrison Smith returns to the practice field Friday after champing at the bit the last several weeks. He talked about the process and how excited he has been to return to the practice field, even if he knows he can't play for a couple more weeks.

As the Vikings return to the practice field Friday after a shortened Thursday practice to allow players to be with the families on Thanksgiving, there will be a welcome sight – the return of safety Harrison Smith.

The most dominant member of the Vikings secondary, Smith has been on the shelf since suffering a left foot injury Oct. 13 against Carolina. Diagnosed as a turf toe injury – more appropriately, the injury was to the ball of his foot – the Vikings knew it was significant and would likely require several weeks of rehabilitation. As a result, he was placed on injured reserve/designation for return list. By placing him on that list, Smith is eligible to return, but must sit out eight weeks – which would target his return for the Vikings game at Philadelphia Dec. 15.

On Friday, however, he gets to return to practice. Smith is ready to finally get the leash taken off and be allowed to run free. The pain subsided after a couple weeks, so Smith is seeing consistent improvement and is ready to finally starting pushing himself to getting back into game shape.

"It feels really good," Smith said. "Not it's a matter of testing it out. From what I was told, I hurt it from bending it backward. If I bent it too far backward, it could aggravate it, but it's healed the point now where I can stretch it now. It's not as mobile as my right foot, but I can feel it getting better every day."

A player with the old-school mentality, Smith is the type that if he had a severe pinky toe injury, he would tell the doctor just to cut it off. Players like that are great to have on the field, but not so much in the training room. It would seem Vikings head trainer Eric Sugarman has been more of a wild animal trainer, trying to keep Smith to stick to the protocol, even though he often felt like a caged animal.

"There haven't been any setbacks," Smith said. "Sug and the staff have done a good job of holding me back from myself. There have been a few times that I've wanted to take off on them and just start running, but they've been smart about keeping me from pushing it too hard. When they put me on I.R., we knew I wouldn't be able to come back and be eligible until the Eagles game and they've been targeting this week to try to push it a little harder."

That wasn't an easy task. By his own admission, Smith was a good student at the Sug School of Rehab Science. He loves playing the game and is willing to get back out on the field when markedly less than 100 percent. It was a problem for the training staff trying to keep him muzzled. For Smith, he didn't want any of it.

"My mentality is to rush coming back," Smith said. "Not to the point of pushing it where I'm going to hurt myself worse, but if you're not pushing it, you're not getting better."

Compounding his problems has been that, from the outset, he knew when his target return date was. Making quicker-than-expected progress, while positive, didn't really matter. He was going to miss two months, whether he was ready to return in four weeks, eight weeks or not at all.

"It's been very frustrating, especially when I knew really early on that it was going to be eight weeks regardless of how quickly it healed," Smith said. "Once it started feeling better, I wanted to get back out there. I'm a competitor. I think I could be out there now, but, because of the severity of the injury, I got placed on I.R. and that set the timetable for coming back. There's really nothing you can do right now but take it day to day, not push it too hard so you don't have setbacks and stay the course."

Black Friday has become a quasi-holiday of its own, as stores try to entice shoppers to come to their places of business with offers of huge discounts. It belies the name – Black Friday has a negative connotation and the only negatives are the sardine-packed crowds that accompany the savings – but it's going to be Black Friday today at Vikings practice. Smith is back and ready to start putting some aggressiveness and big hitting back into the Black and Blue Division.

"I can't wait," Smith said. "It's been killing me watching from the side and knowing there was nothing I could do to help us out. I'm finally to the point where I can get back and I'm ready to do whatever I can to get back on the field and help us finish strong."


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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