Arguably the Vikings’ best defensive player, the team can ill-afford not to have the playmaking Smith on the field. He is currently tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with three and he is a leader on the back end of the defense who is the most dynamic playmaker in the secondary.
On Wednesday, Smith was walking through the locker room without a noticeable limp and two days removed from having the walking boot removed. He didn’t practice Wednesday, but he did conditioning on the side with noticeable discomfort while running straight ahead. He said the medical staff is exercising some caution with him, so he is taking his recovery day by day.
“It’s feeling better,” Smith said. “The big thing right now is to not take any steps back (in the recovery) and just get it better every day.”
It was a long weekend for Smith. While most of his teammates took the extra time off over the weekend to get away for a couple of days, Smith was stuck at Winter Park starting the rehabilitation process.
“I tried to just stay off my feet and get extra treatment,” Smith said. “It’s a sprained ankle. There’s going to be some swelling and some discomfort. We’re just trying to work that part out of it.”
Smith found the walking to boot to be uncomfortable, but acknowledged that it is part of the arduous process of having an injured limb heal is to push it a little and then rest it a little to allow the natural healing process to take place.
“It’s all about getting the ankle right,” Smith said. “Part of the process was wearing the boot to just keep it immobilized so I wouldn’t make any worse than it already was. I got some treatment on it over the weekend and it improved enough that I was able to get rid of the boot on Monday. That’s always a good sign that you’re making progress.”
For some players, the healing process takes different forms. Things can look to be improving quickly, but once the pressure is put on it in a practice, the swelling can return and set back the road to recovery. However, Smith has historically been a quick healer from injuries deemed minor and he believes that this will be another instance that, by the end of the week, he will be good to go if he follows the team protocol.
“I think as long as you stay on top of it, the worst is the initial swelling from my experience with it,” Smith said. “But I’m sure everybody’s different. At this point, we’re staying on top of it – get out there and run around on it a little bit, get ice on it and then stay off it afterwards.” His enthusiasm and toughness has been infectious on the team and that hasn’t been lost on head coach Mike Zimmer. While Smith was relegated to light sideline duty during the afternoon practice, during his weekly press conference Zimmer said he liked what he saw from Smith during the morning walk-through practice and was anticipating that, barring a setback, Smith will be on the field in his normal role Sunday because the Vikings need his toughness on the defense.
“The thing I like the most about Harrison is he’s a good competitor – he’s got a lot of toughness in him, a lot of grit,” Zimmer said. “He’s a quiet leader. He’s not really a big vocal kind of guy, but I think that’s part of him feeling out the new system and everything else. I assume that he’ll be more and more (vocal) as we continue to go.”
Keeping Smith off the field may be a difficult proposition for the medical and coaching staff. Last season, he missed half the year with a significant foot injury termed a turf toe and, by his admission, it was killing him not to be on the field.
That experience has hardened him to shrugging off injuries that he doesn’t think are severe. Getting back on the field is his only goal and he’s ready to get back on the field and do what he does best.
“It drives you a little bit nuts when you’re sidelined,” Smith said. “I love football and absolutely hate missing time. You only get so many games that you can play in your lifetime and missing a chunk of them due to injury are games that you won’t get back. That’s one of the reasons I’m trying to do everything I can to be out there Sunday and helping us beat the Lions.”
While he has deemed himself fit to play Sunday, the final decision will come down to the coaching and medical training staffs. Smith will have to get the green light from them before he can reclaim his spot in the starting lineup. He isn’t certain when he will be given full clearance to practice and test the ankle under game-simulated conditions, but he’s confident that when Sunday rolls around, he be patrolling the middle of the Vikings secondary.
“That’s out of my hands,” Smith said of his timetable to return. “I’m preparing as if I’m going to play. We’ll see how it goes, but it’s feeling better every day.”