EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Harrison Smith has been thinking about this weekend since October.
When Smith was put on injured reserve with the Minnesota Vikings’ lone designation to return, he mapped out the schedule. Eight weeks he would be out while dealing with a toe injury. But he knew the dates and even the opponents.
Even a few weeks away from returning he was able to recite the opponents for Minnesota’s final three games, the games Smith would get the chance to return and play in an increasingly lost season for the Vikings and for their playmaking second-year safety.
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Now that it’s here, Smith isn’t questioning his availability for Sunday’s home game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Smith hasn’t been officially active by the team and coach Leslie Frazier still wanted to see how Smith responds in the final days before the first game he’s eligible to return. But Smith was stopped quickly on his way out of the teams’ facilities and said there was no doubt in his mind he’d be ready for Sunday.
Frazier was a bit more cautious, but his eagerness to get his top safety back in a short-handed secondary was apparent.
“Well, if there’s no problems tomorrow, we’re going to get him on the field for Sunday, for sure,” Frazier said.
Smith has been waiting for the day. Ever since he injured his toe on Oct. 13, originally diagnosed as turf toe, Smith wanted to return. Smith said the injury ended up being more than just basic turf toe and surgery wasn’t ruled out until weeks later.
But as Minnesota’s season slipped away with the playoffs officially out of question, Smith gave no thought to sitting out the rest of the season.
“It’s difficult,” Smith said this week of sitting out. “I think guys who really love the game; I mean, all the other stuff that comes with playing in the NFL is nice, obviously, but getting to play on Sundays is what it’s all about. So when you can’t do that, you just feel kind of lost, I guess.”
Smith has missed eight games. He’s still ranks 10th on the team with 34 tackles this season. His two interceptions are one off the team lead held by linebacker Chad Greenway, who got his third interception in last week’s loss at Baltimore.
Before last week — when Smith’s fill-in Andrew Sendejo and cornerback Marcus Sherels had interceptions – Smith was the only defensive back on the team with an interception because cornerback A.J. Jefferson was released three weeks ago.
Minnesota’s secondary needs its leader.
“He’s practiced pretty well this week,” Frazier said. “So, we’ll see where he is tomorrow, but so far, so good. If he does get activated for the game, we’ll find a place for him. He’s a very good player. So, we’ll see how the rotation is going.”
Frazier hasn’t indicated if Smith will start Sunday, and said Smith will rotate with Sendejo and Sanford at safety.
The Vikings could be without their top three cornerbacks with Xavier Rhodes doubtful with an ankle sprain, Chris Cook questionable with a knee injury and Josh Robinson out with a fractured sternum. Safety Robert Blanton has practiced and played at cornerback because of injuries.
Playing Philadelphia’s fast-paced offense Sunday could also affect Smith’s level of participation.
“I’ve tried to work on my conditioning since I’ve been off, but there’s nothing quite like when the lights come on, especially with this offense,” Smith said. “They’re faster than most. Really, just see how it goes, because you can’t simulate it.”
Smith said his return is similar to the beginning of the season because of the time he’s missed. But he’s not worried about any lingering issues with his toe.
“It’s obviously going to take a long time for it to get back to where it was, but it’s structurally sound,” Smith said. “I can move around, I can do what I want to do, so it feels good.”
He’s had Sunday’s date in mind for two months and feels the slow recovery was what his toe needed. He returned to practice two weeks ago.
“You could say maybe, but I don’t know how many snaps I could’ve played, or if it was really where we wanted to be, because I would have tried to rush back,” Smith said when asked if he could have returned sooner if not for the injured reserve rules. “It’s been a good process.”
Upshaw fined for hit on Cassel: Baltimore linebacker Courtney Upshaw was fined $15,750 by the NFL this week after he was penalized for a roughing the passer call on Minnesota quarterback Matt Cassel in Sunday’s 29-26 loss.
Cassel released the ball to tight end John Carlson, who suffered a concussion on the play, and was hit in the chest by the crown of Upshaw’s helmet. Ravens safety James Ihedigbo was not fined for the play on Carlson, in which he Carlson to the turf.
Three plays later, Cassel connected with Jerome Simpson for an 8-yard touchdown pass. Cassel will receive his second straight start this week against the Eagles.