Vikings strong safety Harrison Smith started his career as a linebacker at Notre Dame. His sophomore and junior year he played a mix of both strong safety and linebacker. In his senior season, he was finally slotted for good as the Irish starting strong safety. Always a little undersized at linebacker, Vikings fans ought to be thankful for the decision to keep him at safety.
Through his first 4 NFL games as a starting strong safety, the Notre Dame rookie and first round pick has been fundamentally sound. He has not made a ton of flashy plays. But, he has also not done anything to hurt the Vikings defense. As a rookie, playing a difficult NFL position, he has lived up to his billing. He takes good angles to make tackles. He fills gaps with a gusto. And, when need be, he can absolutely lay the wood on an opposing receiver, tight end, or running back.
At Notre Dame, Smith was a steady performer who had 90 tackles in his senior season. He was also team captain and leader of a pretty stingy Irish defense. It is those intangibles that have been contagious on the 2012 Vikings defense. Smith’s presence in the Vikings secondary has helped transform a pass defense that last season was one of the worst in the league, into one of the league’s better pass defenses.
The Vikings have not had a strong safety of this quality since Robert Griffith roamed the secondary. And while Smith has not yet displayed Griffith’s nose for the ball, Smith has shown a tenacity and toughness that you cannot teach. The guy is just nails.
Last week’s game against the Motor City Kitties is the perfect example. With the Kitties trying to comeback, Fat Stafford threw a deep post to All-Universe WR Calvin Johnson. And yes, Johnson is every bit of 6’5″ and 230 lbs. The guy is a beast. Johnson was supposed to be covered by 5’9″ Antoine Winfield and 5’10” Jamarca Sanford. Sanford blew his coverage and, last year, it would have been a pitch and catch TD for the Kitties. See here if you need proof. This year, the Golden Fundamental, Smith, came to the rescue. He cheated back into the play and delivered monster hit on Megatron. We are talking Mack truck.
That hit served two purposes. First, it jarred the ball loose and took seven points off the board. But second, and maybe more importantly, it set the tone for later in the game. When the Kitties were trying to come back in the 4th Quarter and, it seemed like on every down field pass, the Kitties’ receivers were pulling a Qadry Ismail and short-arming their attempt at catching the ball. The sudden appearance of alligator arms was likely because of Smith’s looming presence in the secondary.
This week the Vikings face a Tenessee Titans squad that has been beaten by 20+ points in three out of their four games. The Titans offense has looked Rip Torn-mug shot bad and their defense has looked worse — think James Brown’s police photoshoot. Even though Matt Hasselbeck is a seasoned NFL QB, okay fine, maybe he is a little over-seasoned, Smith and the Vikings defense should be able to hold the Titans offense in check.
Provided the Vikings offense can put up a few scores against the Titans, the Vikings should have no issues getting win number four. Especially with the Golden Fundamental laying the wood on anyone brave enough to go after a pass in his secondary.
Vikings 23 Titans 13