Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith has had a hard-hitting mentality since he first entered the NFL in 2012. Those hits have made him one of the fan favorites among Vikings faithful and have given him personas such as “Harry the Hit Man.”
His hits get the fans in the stadium excited, as well as his teammates. Even his coaches get excited when they see him deliver those hits and they like that type of mentality from the safety position.
“Across the board, that’s one thing that we want,” said defensive coordinator George Edwards. “We want that physical toughness shown at every position. As guys rally to the football, they’re getting there with a purpose. That’s one thing we try to preach and teach all the time. Our guys really do a nice job of doing that.”
But where does that hard-hitting mentality of Smith’s come from? According to him, there isn’t really one specific thing, but instead it just comes from his love for the game.
“I have a lot of fun playing the game and I always try to play like it’s the last opportunity that I have because it could be,” Smith said. “So I guess that shows in the effort that I do.”
Even though he is all for delivering a big hit on an opposing player, it isn’t something that Smith ever really looks for. He is far more worried about making the correct play. A lot of things can go wrong when a defender goes in for a big hit and he would rather not be on the wrong side of that.
“To be honest, my No. 1 thing is if I need to make the tackle, make the tackle,” he said. “Then different situations arise on how you can make the tackle. Anytime you can get a bigger hit you got a better chance at forcing a fumble or getting the team kind of a little more momentum, so that’s kind of like extra stuff. The No. 1 thing is tackling.”
There are a couple of drawbacks for defenders when they are going in for a big hit. One of them is the risk of injury, but Smith knows that injuries are just part of the game and it’s something players sign up for when they sign the contract to play in the NFL, saying there is a “100 percent chance” of getting injured each season.
To avoid getting hurt, though, Smith tries to just focus on proper tackling technique – wrap players up, strike opposing players with his chest or shoulder and try not to duck his head when he goes in for the hit. The coaches know that Smith, and most other players on the defense, are smart enough to know how to avoid getting injured, which is why they are never too concerned.
“You can’t go out there worried about injuries or any of those things,” Edwards said. “You can get hurt walking across the street. I think our guys are smart, I think they play with a physical toughness and they get to the football with a purpose.
But the sport of football is a fast-paced game where things happen in the blink of an eye, so even when players do everything right, injuries will still occur.
The other concern that defenders face when going in for a big hit is drawing a penalty, a fine from the NFL, or both. Neither thing is something that players want to happen and Smith has done a nice job avoiding both.
Smith has yet to draw a penalty of any kind this year and has not been fined since his rookie year, when he was fined once for a hit and once for wearing unapproved socks.
Playing the game correctly is something that Smith prides himself on, and it has been something that head coach Mike Zimmer has preached since the first day he took over in 2014.
“Yeah that’s something that Zim teaches from every standpoint. Like holding, penalties in general, tackling. The fans and everybody loves the big hit and I get it, it gets everybody excited,” he said. “But if you’re getting penalties and stuff, that’s going to hurt the team. So, like I said, tackling, making solid tackles – making the hard tackles one on one in space, which are things people don’t really appreciate but are really hard to do and are a big difference in the game.”
Creating a big play by delivering a hard hit is often a gamble for a defender. They can create a big play, cause a turnover, or boost their team’s momentum, but they can also draw penalties that hurt their own team.
Smith understands the risk but so far has been able to build a career on creating the big hits on opposing players without any of the repercussions.