EAGAN, Minn. –For Harrison Smith, it's all about learning and looking ahead.
The Vikings 2017 season fell just short of the team's ultimate goal, and the All-Pro safety emphasized that it's important to "put it behind you" and focus on 2018.
"Not necessarily throw it away, but learn from it – the good and the bad," Smith told Twin Cities media members after Wednesday's Organized Team Activity practice. "Try to improve individually and collectively."
The Vikings will take the field at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center today for their third of 10 total OTA sessions. The practices are old hat for Smith, who is entering his seventh season in Purple, but they still hold value for the vets.
Smith said it starts with the group workouts that strengthen not only muscle but also team camaraderie.
From there, the focus is in the classroom – increasing an understanding on the playbook and expectations of the coaching staff.
"How to understand situations better, what we need to improve," Smith said. "Things to focus on, and then take that out here [to the field]. Individually, try to get better at what you're weak at, and then collectively come together as a unit and start taking steps."
Even for Smith, OTAs bring something new each year.
Returning players are getting to know the new additions to the team, which this year includes new faces in the locker room as well as on the coaching staff. Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo, whom the Vikings hired shortly after the 2017 season, will be installing an adjusted offensive system that Minnesota's defensive corps will see in practice.
Smith specified, however, that they're not quite there yet.
"Right now, we're not focused on game planning against our own offense," Smith said. "As a defensive player, I'm focused on getting better at what I do and helping our defense be as best as possible. You've never seen it all; there's always new things that you need to learn from."
One of the new kids on the block especially sparks excitement for his defensive teammates; the Vikings added another weapon to their interior D-line when they signed Sheldon Richardson in free agency.
True to his nature, Smith cautioned against "getting ahead of ourselves" but said bringing in Richardson is a positive move.
"On paper it obviously looks awesome. We know what all those guys can do," Smith said of Minnesota's defensive line. "We still have to put in the work. They've got to get out there and get after the quarterback. But, as a defensive back, absolutely [it's exciting]. If they're getting more pressure, even if they're not sacking the quarterback, if they're getting him off his spot and getting more pressure, that makes us look better on the back end."
With the exception of a few small changes here and there, the Vikings have proven one of the only teams in the league to maintain such continuity of their roster defensively. Each year starts with a blank slate, but Smith acknowledged the benefits of maintaining that core group from season to season.
"A lot of us have played together and played for these coaches for a little time now," Smith said. "So, that helps, with each guy being a little more familiar with things. Maybe building that chemistry a little faster with one another and knowing what to expect on certain plays, where guys are going to be. So, I'd be lying if I said that didn't help a little bit.
Added Smith: "But, at the same time, you still have to start from square one."
So, how does a three-time Pro Bowler with 82 regular-season starts under his belt set new personal goals for the upcoming season?
For Smith, it's never been difficult to push himself.
"Usually I kind of look at what I think I need to improve on. Sometimes it's not statistical things, it's just, 'Could I help a corner a little bit more?' or something like that. Just going through plays that I think I could do better and how could I help the team the best way possible," Smith said. "So, I'll look at those things, and it's always different year-to-year."
When asked if he could share some specifics about the benchmarks Smith set for himself prior to last season, he simply flashed a quick grin.
"You know me – I like to keep them to myself for a while."