Dwight Smith Looking To Prove Himself

On the field, Dwight Smith has proven he's an effective safety in the Tampa-2 scheme, but off the field he admits that he still needs to prove himself before he starts dreaming of a new contract.

A report by ESPN's John Clayton lists safety Dwight Smith as being a potential player for the Vikings to release. That's possible, but Smith told Viking Update at the end of the 2006 season that he realized he has proving left to do.

The Vikings signed Smith shortly before training camp following his release by the New Orleans Saints. He signed a deal that was identical to the remaining years on his contract with the Saints – three years and $6.5 million – but Minnesota protected itself against his checkered past by not giving him a signing bonus.

During training camp, Smith took the time to explain past gun charges against him and wanted to look forward. After the season, when asked about his contract situation, he said he knew he still needed to prove himself off the field before thinking about any more money or additional years added to his contract.

"I haven't proved myself yet," he said. "You give me two years back to back of playing and then I'll talk about a new contract. Until then, I'm just a guy. I know this defense. This is my fifth year in this defense.

"I had off-the-field issues, and those are the types of things you have to stop if you want to talk about being one of the higher paid or upper echelon guys in the league."

There weren't any more gun charges that arose in 2006, but he was charged with lewd conduct for an incident in a stairwell near a Minneapolis nightclub before the season began. Head coach Brad Childress responded by deactivating Smith for the season opener and starting rookie Greg Blue in his place.

Smith responded to that with a solid season thereafter. He was second on the team in tackles and tied for the team lead with four interceptions, and his teammates talked early on about the benefit of having his familiarity with defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin's Tampa-2 scheme from their days together with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tomlin vouched for Smith's ability and character and was a big reason he was brought to the Vikings, but now that Tomlin is the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it raises new speculation on Smith's future with the team.

"I plan on being here, so hopefully we as a team can build and grow into next year," Smith said before Tomlin's name surfaced as a head coaching candidate. "I told coach I could see myself being here for awhile."

His production in 2006 says he would be a solid candidate to return under new defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, but as Smith's base salary grows, he will also move closer to becoming one of the top 10 paid safeties in the game.

He has 18 career interceptions, all in the last five seasons, and each of the last four years he has 85 or more tackles per season. He has started 63 of the 93 career games he has played with New Orleans (2005), Tampa Bay (2001-04) and the Vikings and enjoyed a breakout performance in Super Bowl XXXVII while with Tampa Bay playing against the Oakland Raiders when he returned a pair of interceptions for TDs to set a Super Bowl record.

Now it's up to the Vikings to decide if his production and his words about proving himself off the field are in line with his contract and their mission.

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