By Joseph Gunther
Harrison Smith, S #22
Hometown: Knoxville, TN
College: Notre Dame
The Minnesota Vikings drafted Harrison Smith to help shore up one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL.
The 29th overall selection and second safety has been the best and most physically strong safety since Robert Griffith wore the purple in 2001.
“We are extremely pleased with Harrison, from Day 1,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said Monday on KFAN radio. “We loved him in the Senior Bowl. Yesterday’s play (pick six) was just a culmination of what he does off the field in the classroom and in practice.”
Smith’s physical talent has gotten him into trouble through the pre and regular season. He has been fined by the NFL twice for tackles and ejected once for pushing a referee.
The first fine came before his rookie season even officially began. The NFL docked him $21,000 for a shoulder-to-head hit on San Diego Chargers wide receiver Matt Willie in the third game of the preseason. The league office said that Smith’s hit on Willie, despite being shoulder-to-head and not helmet-to-helmet, was an unnecessary blow to a defenseless receiver.
He was most recently fined $15,750 for a horse collar tackle penalty on Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. Smith was flagged for grabbing the back of Griffin’s jersey to pull him down in the Viking loss.
In between, he was ejected from the Vikings win over the Tennessee Titans for pushing aside a referee. Somehow he avoided a fine or suspension for it. There was plenty of talk after the game about the incident.
The head referee of the crew, Jeff Triplette said Smith “grabbed the official when the official was trying to separate them and pushed the official to the side.”
Triplette was also asked if the official in question, back judge Steve Freeman, used excessive force when pulling Smith aside.
“(Freeman) was just trying to separate (Smith) from the huddle, and he can’t be shoving him aside,” he responded.
Smith may have avoided the extra punishment from Commissioner Roger Goodell, who was in attendance for the game, by profusely apologizing after the game.
“I’ve lost my head before, but I’ve never had an incident with an official,” Smith said. “I completely apologize for that.”
Another saving grace may have been that he did not realize who he was shoving.
“Right after I moved the ref, I realized it was a ref, and I realized that that was stupid and I should never do that,” Smith said. “Stupid by me. I should never put the officials in a position like that. I should never touch them. I know that.”
The Vikings are more than happy to deal with the negatives when the positives make a bigger impact.
Smith leads all rookie defensive backs and is fourth among rookies overall in tackles with 81, tied for third among rookies in interceptions with three, tied among all players for interception returns for a touchdown with two and leads all defensive players in game-winning touchdowns with two.
He is the first Viking rookie to return two interceptions for a touchdown in a season since Dewayne Washington did it in 1994.
“That’s definitely the thought any time you get your hands on the ball,” Smith said after Sunday’s win over the Chicago Bears about the first thought in his head after catching the interception. “Shout out to the rest of the defense for getting the blocks that let me get in (the end zone).”
He added that he knew he would score “pretty much when I touched it” and that he didn’t see an open running lane.
“You just catch it and start running.”
The Vikings pass defense has greatly improved because of Smith’s presence, both as a hitter and as a ball hawk.
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Vikings news, see CBS Sports Minnesota.
Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.