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Harrison Smith Still Evolving at Start of 12th Vikings Training Camp

EAGAN, Minn. – Twelve seasons into his NFL career, Harrison Smith still hasn't stopped studying.

The All-Pro safety reported Tuesday for Vikings Training Camp presented by Omni Viking Lakes Hotel and spoke with media members. Tied with Kirk Cousins for Minnesota's veteran-most player, Smith has all the tools in his toolbelt – but is still adjusting to three defensive systems in as many seasons.

As he adapts to Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores' system, Smith said it "definitely helps" to have previously learned multiple defenses. He pointed out that verbiage is usually the main thing that's changing.

View photos of Vikings S Harrison Smith at training camp from over the years.

"And then there will be some wrinkles that I've never done before but can pick up quicker because I understand what we're trying to do," Smith explained. "Normally if you understand why you're doing the things instead of just being like, 'OK, here's my job. I should line up here and do this.' If you kind of understand the whole thing, it's easier to pick it up and transfer that to four or five plays that are similar.

"I obviously have a good amount of experience – whether it's game day experience or the amount of practice reps I've had. And different schemes I've played in or played against," Smith continued. "[But] then you kind of mix in how the game has evolved and how offenses have evolved. Every now and then if I find myself getting a little too sure of myself with things, the game's changing, so the information I have, it's not always true anymore. You have to keep updating from time to time.

"But those kinds of scars that you build from getting beat on certain things, or success that you've had, those are just kind of engrained somewhere in you and pop up in split seconds before plays and stuff like that," he added. "Some of those are just there and you don't have to think about them much, and others – you learn better ways to study, more effective ways for yourself, to get results on game day instead of just watching hours of film to say you did it. It's not always productive. You've got to figure out what works for you and what works for the opponent you're playing and kind of the mindset you should be in. It's always evolving, and I try to be mindful of that."

Smith makes it a point to always remain coachable.

"Just being open to learning is important," he said.

Flores spoke with reporters Wednesday and emphasized Smith's impact for himself as a new Vikings coach.

"Harrison is that veteran presence and that leadership. This is someone who has played a lot of football over the course of his career and been in a lot of situations. He can just be a voice for the younger players because he has been through it," Flores said. "It's one thing for a coach to say 'Hey, a situation is going to arise like this or happen like this.' It's another thing for a guy sitting in the locker next to you to say, 'Hey, in 2015 I was in the game, and they had a play like Coach is talking about or a play or a game plan similar to this, and it worked like this, and here are the things we could've done better.'

"I think that voice is very important for us defensively," Flores added. "Plus, he's a very good player. He's made a lot of plays over the course of his career. He's smart. He's tough. He brings leadership. I'm excited to have him to work with."

Smith is equally excited to work with Flores, who is his sixth defensive coordinator since being drafted 29th overall in 2012. He previously worked with Alan Williams (2012-13), George Edwards (2014-19), Co-Coordinators Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer (2020-21) and Ed Donatell (2022).

"Biggest impression, I'd say he knows what he wants. He's assertive about what he wants, and he likes having his own style and then turning it over to his players," Smith said. "It's been great learning from him, and we just kind of scratched the surface."

He referenced Flores' aggressive style that showed up early in OTAs and minicamp and will likely only ramp up as the season approaches.

"You can tell he likes to be multiple with things and not stuck in one way. So it's fun to learn new styles and new ways of doing things, and I'm sure we'll just keep building with that," Smith said.

Physicality won't truly hit full-throttle during training camp, even though pads will pop soon. Smith noted that aspects of a defense sometimes "get tweaked" while game planning. But so far, he's liking what he's seen of the Vikings 2023 defense.

"It's very intriguing the way we do things and the way we use different players … and kind of set the whole defense up to be a little more multiple," Smith said. "I think we can do a lot of things and have a lot of success if we take advantage of those things as players. And kind of like Flo' says, make it our defense and take ownership in it."