Smiles All-Around For Smoot

Cornerback Fred Smoot likes to talk, likes his new head coach, and likes the fact that his coach lets him talk. But Smoot still has a few things he'd like to prove as a new member of the Vikings.

For as many good lines as Fred Smoot has had on the football practice fields at Winter Park over the last four months, when he told Viking Update that Minnesota head coach Mike Tice and Washington head coach Joe Gibbs were similar, that seemed like another joke.

While Tice played for Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, the two men seem like they might be opposite personalities. No kidding, says Smoot.

"No, they're not (very different)," Smoot said. "The only difference is Coach Gibbs is more like the Granddaddy figure. He's more like that guy you work with all the time, and when it's time for game time you don't want to go out there and let your Granddad down. You go out there and lay it on the line because you know how much time and effort he put into it. They're similar in lots of ways."

Tice has a respect for Gibbs and has taken parts of Gibbs' offense and incorporated it into the Vikings offense. Still, when Washington had to make some choices on which players it wanted to keep – or could afford to keep under the rules of the salary cap – Smoot was one they had to let go.

Since, Gibbs has spoken well of Smoot, and Smoot returns the courtesy. Maybe it was that good relationship and the similarities that Smoot saw in Tice and Gibbs that led him to Minnesota. According to Smoot, that's the biggest factor that led him to choosing the Vikings over other suitors.

"Just Coach Tice, man. For the first time since college I feel I've got a coach like Jackie Sherrill. He's a players' coach, my kind of coach," Smoot said. "Just when I saw what he was trying to do on defense – got Darren Sharper, had signed Pat Williams, had traded for Napoleon Harris – I knew where the defense was going and I wanted to be a part of it."

It might seem like an old-school coach like Tice might want to put an end to the talking, but after his first practices with Smoot in minicamps, Tice backed up Smoot's mouth with reinforcement from the coaching staff.

"I like the talking. I always said if you back it up," Tice said when asked about Smoot's chronic talking. "We had a guy that came in last year talking like that and had an early injury and we asked him to be quiet. Then when he got healthy he didn't stop talking the whole year, and that was Jermaine Wiggins, and he backed it up. We were real happy when the thing ended to have Jermaine Wiggins on our football team. Maybe Fred is going to be the next Jermaine Wiggins, who knows?"

After visiting with the Vikings at the beginning of March's free-agent signing period, Smoot was going to visit Dallas, Pittsburgh and Kansas City, teams he said were "on the rise," but he felt strongest about the Vikings' chances after visiting with Tice.

"This was the first one (visit), and when I pulled in Tice said this would be the last one. I kind of took heed to that and we kept going," Smoot said.

While Smoot has average four interceptions per season in his four years with the Redskins, he is becoming a vocal leader on defense. He is a teammate who tries to instill confidence in a defense and keep things light-hearted. His efforts were readily apparent in nearly every Vikings practice this spring.

"We're just trying to get better every day," he said. "We're not going to go out and say we're going to be the No. 1, 2, 3 or 4 defense. We're going to win games and we're going to win them on defense for a change."

His track record in Washington shows a strong defense and a revolving door of great cornerback talent opposite him. But it also shows a team that hasn't experienced any playoff success.

Smoot would love to change that.

"It's not the numbers part of it. I want respect in this league. I've always been on great defenses. I always played with a great counterpart in Champ Bailey, Shawn Spring and "Deep" Darrel Green. This is a chance to free up and show what the Fred Smoot worth is."

Unlike Vikings defenses of recent past, Smoot, a key free agent, isn't expected to be the savior. Instead, there are many added parts over the last two years that will have to come together to form a formidable whole.

Opposite Smoot this year is last year's prize free agent, cornerback Antoine Winfield.

"With Antoine, what you've got to realize is his biggest muscle is his heart, and that's what I play with – a lot of heart – so they've got two similar players. It's going to be a great year for people watching the Vikings defense," Smoot said.

Smoot will continue to talk, and he'll continue to tout the potential of this defense. And then he hopes to be part of a winning team that experiences much playoff success. If so, he should have his players' coach by his side for years to come.

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