After a toe injury sidelined Vikings safety Harrison Smith for eight games last season, no. 22 in purple and gold is looking to come back and have an impact on the Minnesota secondary. But the question on Smith as he enters his third NFL season is this: is he the real deal?
Smith came to Minnesota after being a standout for the Notre Dame Irish, captaining the team in 2011 and becoming the first player in program history to record over 200 tackles, finishing his NCAA career with 309. Becoming the third Notre Dame defensive back taken by the Vikings in the first round, Minnesota selected him 29th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.
There’s no doubt that Smith is a great player, but can he be one of the best?
In his rookie season of 2012, the safety started in all 16 regular season games and recorded 129 tackles to finish second on the team. Smith also finished first on the team in interception return yards to go along with two interceptions returned for touchdowns, tying a franchise record for single season touchdowns on interception returns. On top of an outstanding season, Smith set a franchise record as the first safety to start in all 16 regular season games, surpassing the previous record of 14.
When Smith came back for the 2013 season, expectations were high. Though an injury shortened his season last year, it would be hard to argue he didn’t exceed expectations. In eight games in 2013, Smith posted numbers of 66 tackles, two interceptions, and recorded ten tackles in the season opener at Detroit.
Even though Smith has proven himself to be better than just an average safety in the NFL, he still wants to improve.
“You don’t want to be complacent.” said Smith. “You want to get better every day. Get better at something every day.”
The 6’2”, 214 pound safety has proven to be one of the best open field tacklers in the NFL the past two seasons but coming back this season healthy and ready for a full season with some experience under his belt could make him one of the best defensive backs in the league period.
“Now I have a better idea what I need to do to prepare and what I need to do to take care of my body.” Smith said.
Through his first two seasons playing 24 games, Smith has averaged 6.75 tackles per game and is averaging five solo tackles per game thus far in his career. Though Jamarca Sanford and Robert Blanton will battle for the other safety position, Smith is a lock to start this season for the Vikings. There’s no doubt that if Harrison Smith can stay healthy for all of the 2014 season, that he will indeed be the real deal.