Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith ready to take Mike Zimmer's defense to the next level

The Minnesota Vikings made news Monday by making Harrison Smith the highest paid safety in the NFL with a five-year, $51.25 million contract extension. It wasn't unexpected, because Smith has had plans all along to be a leader in Mike Zimmer's defense.

One of the hallmarks of the Minnesota Vikings of recent years is that they never get much in the way of compensatory picks. When they have a talented young player getting ready to hit free agency, they make a point to lock that player down and keep him in the fold.

On Monday, the team announced that it had signed safety Harrison Smith to a contract extension, one that is a five-year, $51.25 million contract extension that locked him down through the 2021 season.

If any player has exemplified head coach Mike Zimmer’s aggressive, detail-oriented defense, it has been Smith. He is asked to play all around the field and Zimmer has hinted that he has more in store for Vikings opponents in the years to come.

Smith was one of the first players to fully buy into Zimmer’s scheme because he loved his multi-faceted role that allows players to make big plays and have different assignments from one play to the next.

While he has learned a lot from Zimmer’s system, Smith said he is far from mastering it, but is excited about the potential it provides.

“I would never say that I could absorb everything there is in Coach Zimmer’s defense,” Smith said. “Especially with the personnel we have and the athleticism we have in our front seven, we can always dial up some new stuff and I have a feeling we’re going to be doing a lot more of that this season.”

http://www.scout.com/nfl/vikings/story/1676037-harrison-smith-signs-exte...  The best part of Zimmer’s defense, in Smith’s view, is its malleability. When you watch tape of most teams, there is some disguise and deception done, but most of them tend to tip their hands based on alignment and pre-snap movement. When it comes to the Vikings, disguise and deception is a hallmark of how its run – and you rarely get the same pressure from the same formation twice in a row.

On a lot of plays, Smith and other defensive backs are left on individuals islands and, more times than not, they hold up their end of the bargain. It is a calculated risk the Zimmer defense takes on certain key plays. What intrigues Smith about the future of the Vikings defense is that there are nuances within the standard base plays the Vikings utilize that will further confuse and confound opposing offenses.

“There are a lot of details within plays we run all the time that are constantly changing,” Smith said. “We don’t want to give people the same look over and over again. We’re far enough in this defense that we can change things up and keep offenses guessing as to what we’re going to do.”

The Vikings have made a point to assemble a defensive group since Zimmer’s arrival, but perhaps his most talented student was already there when Zimmer arrived. He had a chance to leave sooner than the drafted Zimmer disciples would have. The front office made a point to assure that didn’t happen.

Smith has ingested more football intelligent than he ever thought he could be before he started taking in Zimmer’s defense. It has taught him a master’s class in playing defense and he will continue to be an on-field leader. He loves getting the weekly game plan because there is always something new that gets introduced.

Smith considered himself to be a football-smart player coming out of Notre Dame, but quickly has learned that while he no longer matriculates at South Bend, every day in the NFL with the coaching staff can be a teaching moment.

http://www.scout.com/nfl/vikings/story/1669803-subscribe-today-member-be...  “I’ve always tried to be a student of the game, because there is so much you need to learn,” Smith said. “I think everybody comes into the NFL thinking they’re ready, but you learn so much every week once you get here that you didn’t consider when you were in college. Every meeting teaches you something – defensive meetings, special teams meetings, if an offensive coach is giving a presentation. You try to pick things up in everything that the coaches are teaching you and it helps make you a better ballplayer.”

One advantage the Vikings have heading into 2016 is that more than 90 percent of the players who had a significant role on game day in 2015 – starters, backups and special teamers – are going to be back. Rick Spielman made the concerted effort to keep the band together for 2016 and making sure that Smith remains long-term.

Smith has seen a ton of roster turnover in his short career in Minnesota – from the coaching staff in place when he arrived to changes that have been made since Zimmer’s arrival.

But, as his signing showed, the Vikings seem committed to sticking with the core players that have helped mark their sharp improvement over the last year-plus and Smith is looking forward to the possibilities.

“Having a unit that sticks together like we’ve been able to do here, you get better because you know what everyone is doing,” Smith said. “We communicate extremely well with each other and you could see that coming together last year. We have a good thing going here and we’re all looking forward to where it can take us because we believe we have the players here to do some great things.”

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