Rookie Smith ready to join starting lineup

BY foxsports • August 13, 2012

MANKATO, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings have made it clear that first-round draft pick Harrison Smith needs to earn a starting spot at safety.

After two weeks of practice and one preseason game, the rookie from Notre Dame might be doing just that.

Smith, who Minnesota traded back in the first round to draft at No. 29 overall, started training camp behind Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford at safety. Raymond and Sanford were the starting safeties at the end of last season and Smith wasn't going to be simply given a starting spot, despite being drafted to finally give the Vikings an all-around playmaker at the position.

But Smith started receiving some work with the first-team defense in practice last week and showed a physical edge to his play. In limited time in Friday's game, Smith made a heady play on a reverse, staying his ground and stopping the play for a loss.

While Raymond and Sanford remained the starting safeties in practice Monday, coach Leslie Frazier indicated Sunday that Smith could be starting shortly, possibly as soon as Friday's second preseason game when Minnesota hosts the Buffalo Bills.

"One of the things when we went back to look at the tape, and we felt this way going in, Harrison was really making a push," Frazier said. "He's going to get a chance to work in that first group, and he did on Friday night as well. He just didn't start the game. It will be the same this week, although we're going to do some things a little bit different with the starting rotations on Friday night.

"He's done enough now where we feel confident that he can go out there in a starter's role and we want to see how he performs in that role. He very well could start Friday, he's did some good things when he was in there Friday night."

Smith didn't play extensively in the first preseason game. Meanwhile, Raymond and Sanford both struggled at times, specifically in run support as the Vikings' defense struggled as a whole against the run, giving up 260 rushing yards to the San Francisco 49ers.

Sanford was caught out of position at times, including on San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick's 78-yard touchdown run. Raymond missed a chance to stop 49ers running back Brandon Jacobs on a play for a minimal gain, but took a bad angle at the big back, who went for 23 yards on the play.

"You've got to keep putting him in situations and giving him a chance to make plays,' Frazier said of the second-year safety, Raymond. "He's going to get opportunities like all our guys that are fighting for jobs. You don't want to make a declaration at this point that he can't do it. We've got some more opportunities ahead. So he'll get more opportunities and so will the other guys to make those plays."

But with Smith starting to show he is ready for a starting spot, the opportunities become increasingly important for Raymond and Sanford.

Smith said he appreciates any repetitions in practice as he adapts to the NFL and was happy to get some first-team work last week after teaming with veteran special teams ace Eric Frampton as safeties on the second unit for much of training camp. Smith was drafted with the belief he'd be a starter, but he understood the coaches making him earn a starting spot.

"To me that's how anything should be," Smith said last week. "There's no reason just to give something to somebody without them earning it. That's the way football should be in my opinion."


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