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Harrison Smith on 'Reset' for Vikings Defense with New & Familiar Faces

EAGAN, Minn. – Don't tell Harrison Smith that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

And for the record, this 34-year-old writer is using the word "old" loosely here.

But at 33, Smith has played under (mostly) the same coaching staff for the past eight seasons and now is prepping for an entirely new regime.

The six-time Pro Bowler told Twin Cities media members Monday that he's embracing the opportunity to learn.

He mentioned that Vikings new Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell will bring in new schemes and potentially tweak schemes Smith has familiarity with. New terminology also will be introduced to the defense.

"You've just got to reset and kind of start fresh," said Smith on the first day of Minnesota's voluntary offseason workout program at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.

Anyone playing football at the NFL level has had to adjust to new coaching staffs or systems, albeit some more than others.

"I don't even know what I ran, exactly, in high school, but you've got to learn something in college, and I had a new staff in college. I learned that," Smith said. "I played for a different staff my first two years [with the Vikings] that was mostly Cover 2 based."

He added: "Just roll with it. Just figure it out."

Smith already has been impressed by Vikings new Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and the culture he's fostering among the team – and the free agent additions O'Connell and General Manger Kwesi Adofo-Mensah have added.

Particularly of note for Smith are the likes of Harrison Phillips, Za'Darius Smith and Jordan Hicks, who will bolster the defensive line and linebacker corps playing in front of the safety (if he lines up in the secondary).

"That's big, selfishly, for secondary players. If you can get to the quarterback, disrupt the quarterback, make it a little harder on him, it's important," Smith said. "We all know it's a quarterback-driven league, so you've got to make them uncomfortable back there. I think we've done quite a good job of getting guys in here that can do that."

Smith is also looking forward to working with Chandon Sullivan, whom the Vikings signed in late March. The former Packers cornerback said he "fell in love with the culture" during his free agent visit and knew Minnesota was the right fit for him.

View photos of Vikings players returning to the TCO Performance Center to begin the 202 offseason program.

It seems likely that Sullivan will compete for the starting slot corner spot, a position he consistently played over the past two seasons.

"My first couple seasons I bounced around. I played corner, I played safety, I played dime," he said. "It wasn't really until Year 2 or Year 3 that I locked in and became a full-time nickelback. Comfortable there, but like I said, I can play any position in the secondary."

Nickel is one of the more complex positions on a defense, which can – and should – be a point of pride for those who master the craft.

"Depending on the formation of the offense and the defensive call, you could be playing on an island, you could be in the box, have a run gap. It's a lot going on and it's just a different feel," Sullivan explained. "When you're a corner, you have the sideline and being able to keep your leverage. When you're in the slot, a lot of times, guys have a two-way go, so there's a lot of room in there.

"It can be a little scary for guys, but I feel like I've made the right adjustments," Sullivan said. "Continue to improve my tackling. Ball skills, continue to improve that. It's a position that's definitely fun."

Ultimately, Sullivan noted, "we'll just see how it goes" as far as the responsibilities he's given.

"Whatever opportunity and whatever position they need me to play, I'll be ready to go," he said.

Signing new players always attracts plenty of attention from fans and media alike, but Smith emphasized the re-signings that "sometimes don't get celebrated quite as much." Take, for instance, the Vikings bringing back veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson for a second stint in purple.

Smith called Peterson "a significant presence" on the field as well as around the building and pointed out that the three-time First-Team All-Pro acts as a mentor for younger players.

Sullivan said he's excited to share a position room with Peterson.

"It's crazy, it just shows his longevity, I remember watching him when I was in high school, college," Sullivan said. "Now to be in the same locker room and same meeting room, it's wild.

"Even my friends can't believe it. They were like, 'How's Pat Pete?' And I said, 'I'll let you know when I meet him,' " Sullivan laughed.

Peterson's impact isn't felt only by the youngsters, though.

"I'm older than Pat, by like a year, and I feel like I watched him in high school," Smith quipped. "He's been doing it at a high level for a long time."

Smith and Peterson don't take longevity for granted in the NFL. As "The Hitman" enters his 11th NFL season, how much longer does Smith plan to keep playing?

"Whenever people ask me that, I'll always say, 'Just until they kick me out,' " Smith said, cracking a grin. "But 10 years was a goal, for sure. After that, as long as I'm productive and bringing something to the table and enjoying it, until they kick me out."