A trip to Orlando is bittersweet for Harrison Smith.
The Vikings safety would rather be preparing for the big game in Atlanta than practicing for the Pro Bowl, but he also is grateful for the opportunity to represent Minnesota, spend additional time with teammates and learn from other talented players across the league.
"This isn't the goal, obviously. It's cool, kind of individual stuff, but that's not really what this game's about," said Smith, who has never been one to bask in the personal spotlight.
"I appreciate it, and I take in the week, but it's all about what the Vikings do. It's not about this," he added.
Smith said he appreciates the camaraderie and atmosphere, however, that's generated by opponents-turned-teammates for the week of Pro Bowl prep.
This year marking his fourth consecutive appearance in the all-star game, Smith is a Pro Bowl vet. He emphasized that while the atmosphere may be more relaxed, he's always looking for pieces he can glean and add to his game.
Smith pointed to his fellow safeties on the NFC squad, including Philadelphia's Malcolm Jenkins and Chicago's Eddie Jackson, and said it's "cool to mix it up a bit" with guys he's used to seeing on tape.
"There's always little pieces, just how to play some things," Smith said. "You're always going to learn the most from your coaches, the things that you do with the Vikings, but little pieces here and there of just what guys are thinking, it could help you going forward."
Smith will play a little tourist this week, as well (he's especially excited to check out Harry Potter World), but his favorite aspect of the Pro Bowl is meeting and interacting with players whose games he's admired from afar. He mentioned the opportunity to play alongside older players that he watched as a college athlete at Notre Dame as well as connecting with younger up-and-coming names.
Among the younger players in Florida this week is one Smith is quite familiar with.
Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter will make his Pro Bowl debut Sunday afternoon, and Smith – who returned an interception for a touchdown in last year's game – is betting on the 24-year-old to make a splash this time around.
"I'm going to say me again," Smith initially quipped when asked which Viking would make a big play this year.
"No, honestly, a couple years ago Everson [Griffen] had like three sacks [in his first Pro Bowl]," Smith added. "So Danielle, being his first one, I think he'll be pretty excited, and I think he'll be the guy."
Smith is looking forward to sharing the experience with Hunter as well as teammates Anthony Barr and Adam Thielen. The oldest of the group, Smith said it hasn't really hit him that he already has seven NFL seasons under his belt. But he doesn't have any plans to slow down.
"I don't really notice, I guess," Smith laughed. "[I was] talking to some guys, I feel like I just got in the league. I'm just going to keep it going."