MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — Harrison Smith might get a tip from head coach Mike Zimmer, or defensive coordinator George Edwards will have something to say.
Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray is always available to help.
That’s three current or former defensive coordinators offering their knowledge, and the Minnesota Vikings safety is smart enough to pay attention.
“There’s always going to be some hiccups, but those guys do a great job of teaching,” Smith said. “You listen to guys with that much knowledge.”
Smith is trying to learn a new defense, potentially with a new partner at safety. He’s become a stabilizing force at a position that had seen a lot of turnover before he arrived as a late first-round draft choice in 2012.
“He’s a true pro,” Edwards said. “He does all of the things off and on the field that you are looking for out of a safety. It has been a blessing to have him out there and him take charge of what is happening communication-wise. He has been the one position that has been pretty solid as far as him being there every day.”
For two seasons, Smith has played in the cover-2 defense, which has the safety playing a lot of zone coverage, deep down the field. He said that the biggest difference in the new, more aggressive scheme is closing the space between the defender and receiver and attacking the ball, whether it’s coming up to stop the run or trying to defend the middle of the field.
“Coach Zimmer wants us to compete for the ball,” Smith said. “Most of the elements of this defense are the same. I need to get stronger at all aspects of my position.”
Zimmer, who has some history coaching defensive backs, said he worked a lot with Smith early in the offseason on technique, given that he’s played so little man coverage.
“He goes as hard as he can,” Zimmer said. “He wants to be very good.”
In just two seasons, Smith has solidified himself as the top safety on the team. In his first season, he started all 16 games and earned All-Rookie honors after making 104 tackles and three interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
Last season, he played in only eight games because of a toe injury, making 58 tackles and two interceptions.
“That guy can really play some football,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “I’m happy to be his teammate. You can mess up back there, and you know he’s going to cover your rear.”
Smith still doesn’t know who will be the other starting safety. Jamarca Sanford played there for much of last season, but Robert Blanton had been working with the starters at training camp until he injured his hamstring on Monday, which could keep him out for a month. This week, Mistral Raymond and rookie Dante Exum have worked some with the No. 1 defense.
“Right now, we’re just building chemistry with the whole defense,” Smith said. “In the secondary, things aren’t always going to go perfectly so you have to be ready to work with whoever is in there. It’s not up to me to decide who’s in there, but whoever it is, we’ll work together.”
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