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Harrison Smith Bold in Defending the North

To opposing quarterbacks, Harrison Smith is a bold-faced liar.

To running backs, he's a challenge that's hard to shake.

To pass catchers in the middle of the field, he's soreness the next morning.

View the best photos of S Harrison Smith, after he signed his contract extension with the Vikings on Monday.

To Vikings fans, he's "Harry the Hitman." 

And to the Vikings defense, he's brains, brawn and a boldness to the back end of Mike Zimmer's scheme, the same one that enters today's game No. 2 in the NFL in points allowed (17.1 per game).

When opposing quarterbacks survey the Vikings defense, they often spot Smith. He just might not be in the same spot or showing the same posture he was a play before.

"Is he blitzing or bluffing?" they have to ask.

If it's the former, the next thoughts are where to go with the ball and how quickly can it be delivered. 

If it's the latter, there's more to process during the play while Vikings teammates apply pressure.

"That's what's awesome about this defense," Smith said. "You get to do it all. You get to blitz, you get to line up in the box, you get to play man-to-man, you get to play deep middle, deep half, you get to do everything so it's a lot of fun. It keeps you kind of learning more and more about the game."

In preparing for last week's game at Oakland, Zimmer talked about the role that veteran defensive back Charles Woodson plays in disguising the Raiders defense.

Asked about Smith's role in doing the same for the Vikings, Zimmer said the fourth-year pro is sometimes tasked with doing so.

"There's a fine line between being out of position and trying to disguise with the quarterback," Zimmer said. "Harrison is pretty good at it."

Smith has a childhood memory of watching Woodson win the 1997 Heisman and not being disappointed, despite growing up in Peyton Manning's collegiate backyard. Smith is still watching Woodson, but now is doing so to better learn elements of deception.

"That's something I've tried to expand on every year that I've been in the league," Smith said. "He's obviously a future Hall of Famer, so watching guys like him, he can really throw quarterbacks off, maybe get them out of run plays or get them into run plays based on what you're doing on defense, get them off certain receivers. We're always trying to learn each team each week, what you need to take away and how to play them from there."

Now, he's also learning from Vikings veteran cornerback Terence Newman, who joined Minnesota as a free agent this offseason and delivered two interceptions Sunday to earn **NFC Defensive Player of the Week** honors.

"He's a competitor. I think we had two of the most ageless DBs out there on the field in Terence and Woodson," Smith said. "Being able to play with Terence, I'm very lucky to be a guy that's around him and gets to learn from him."

Smith processes formations, downs and distances. Study during the week helps out in some games, but isn't guaranteed to pay off.

"You're not always going to be able to fool them," Smith said. "Sometimes you've got to play it honest, but there's certain times when you know who to take away."

*(Pro Bowl push: Go to ****** to vote for Smith and Vikings players for the Pro Bowl.)*

Heading into Sunday's game against the Packers, Smith said everything starts with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is 198-of-313 passing on the season with 21 touchdowns, three interceptions and a rating of 103.4. Rodgers has been sacked 22 times, but has rushed 37 times for 221 yards.

The Vikings have seen Rodgers buy time on pass plays until a receiver has slipped coverage in previous meetings.

"He's a guy that extends plays with his feet and runs to throw, which is hard to defend," Smith said. "That's something you've got to be conscious of when you're playing him."

Does that ability take away from the effectiveness of deception?

"You can still try to do it, but it might be all for nothing if he's able to extend the plays," Smith said. "We have a lot of faith in our guys up front getting pressure and getting sacks on quarterbacks and making them get the ball out, so that's what we want them to do."

After the snap, Smith provides run support with consistent fundamental tackling that enabled him to join Linval Joseph in stuffing Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley on a two-point conversion attempt. He also peppers it with an occasional one-armed takedown like he had against Danny Woodhead in Week 3. Then there's also times when he turns the tables on stiff-arm attempts, grabs a hand and takes down or delays the ball carrier until help arrives.

Smith brings a physicality in defending passes, earning his moniker with clean collisions that jar bones but are within the rules of the game. He stuffed Matt Forte after a short pass in Chicago, and Forte suffered an injury during the play.

The first-round pick also managed to strike Amari Cooper immediately after the Raiders rookie receiver caught a pass Sunday. The severity of the hit prompted a flag, but after discussion, officials determined it was a legal hit, Smith's shoulder to Cooper's left arm.

"We want that physical toughness shown at every position," Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said. "As guys rally to the football, they're getting there with a purpose. That's one thing we try to preach and teach all the time. Our guys really do a nice job of doing that."

A hit like that quickly draws attention and reaction. It becomes dispersed across the internet and highlight shows, but Smith enjoys the routine play, if there is such a thing at the sport's highest level.

"To me, playing in the NFL is a dream come true. It's something that's not going to last forever," Smith said. "It's pretty short for most people so you've got to make the most of it every play.

"When guys make a solid tackle, that was a lot of effort and years of work to get to that point, so you've got to make those plays just like you make the other plays," Smith continued. "Those are really the plays that are not celebrated much and people don't know about them much, but you're going to make more and more of those plays. That sets you up for the second-and-9 or the third-and-longs. You've got to make those plays to get to the big downs."

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