Smith sees bigger picture in Vikings defense

Harrison Smith is starting to understand how all the different plays and aggressive are coming together for the Vikings defense.

Vikings fans have been spending the last month-plus watching the Vikings and seeing things happen with the defense that they haven’t seen before. Players moving in an out. Rotations on the defensive line. Blitzes from the secondary. It’s been a refreshing change of pace from the reactionary style of the Tampa 2 defense that had been a part of Vikings defense for the better part of the last decade.

One player who is loving the new look of the Vikings defense is safety Harrison Smith. He admits that it’s been a long offseason trying to adjust to the new coaching staff, but he loves the aggressive style because it puts a lot of pressure on the secondary to make plays and fly around the field.

Although the core of every defense has some nearly identical elements, what Smith and his teammates have been exposed to is something very different and Smith is loving the new scheme and his role in it.

“There are certain plays here and there that are similar, but there are some plays that I’ve never seen before,” Smith said. “I appreciate every play because they’re all for certain situations and mix-ups. It’s nice to have them because they all kind of work together.”

All the movement, blitzing, personnel changes and pressure being applied to the offense at times can look simply as risk-reward plays. If they work, they can change a game quickly. If they don’t work, they can surrender big plays.

However, as Smith has become more familiarized with the defensive playbook, he is seeing that there is a method to the madness and one common thread that exists throughout the myriad of differing formations and packages – to swarm to the ball on running plays and force a quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly when he drops to pass.

“We just try to put ourselves in position to execute,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of movement of players and formations and that can cause some confusion for the offense, but we just want to eliminate space and not get them room to complete passes. That’s what a lot of that is.”

For all of his ferocity on the field, it’s hard to believe that Smith is a cerebral player and a student of the game. When he puts his helmet on, at times he gives off the impression that there’s blood in the water and he’s a hungry shark. But behind his aggressiveness is a player looking to perfect his mental approach to the game.

When his playing days end, Smith has indicated that he might consider becoming a coach. It was during his college days at Notre Dame that he first started to see the bigger picture of the difference a coaching philosophy can make. Once he mastered his first NFL playbook, he saw how the complexity of a defensive scheme can be simplified. With the new coaching stuff under the tutelage of head coach Mike Zimmer, Smith has taken his knowledge base to a new level and is excited about the prospects facing him and his teammates.

“Any time I play with a new staff or with new coaches, I’ve tried to learn something from them,” Smith said. “Everybody’s had their own experiences and knowledge of the game. I’ve learned a ton already from the new guys and from Coach Zimmer. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more. After you’ve played in so many different styles, you get a better understanding of the game and I’m trying to hold on to those things.”

With the Vikings looking to be one of the surprise teams of 2014, Smith knows that the defense will have to play at a high level, something that was in short supply last season. He and his teammates have been on the same page since before training camp and they’re seeing their hard work pay off when it counts the most – on game day.

After missing half of the 2013 season with an excruciating turf toe injury, Smith is happy to be 100 percent and doing what he loves at a high level.

“When you get out there on Sundays, there’s nothing like it,” Smith said. “It’s what I love to do and it’s where I have the most fun. When I wasn’t able to play last year, it was killing me because I wanted to be out there with my teammates. I’m just glad I’m playing and we have a chance to do something special here. I think we have a long way to go, but we’re making a lot of progress and that’s what is important. We’re all shooting for the same goal and we have the players here to get it done.”

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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