EAGAN, Minn. – Harrison Smith blitzes quarterbacks, tackles running backs and picks off passes.
But the Vikings safety hasn't been inclined to test the waters. Instead, he's under pursuit of Darren Woodson … and an unofficial title?
Smith reached an agreement on a multiyear contract extension with Minnesota over the weekend that will keep him in Purple.
As he enters Season 10 with the Vikings and his eighth playing for Head Coach Mike Zimmer, Smith remains grateful and goal-oriented. He's still pursuing a Super Bowl trophy above all else. There's a little something else, though, too.
"[Zimmer has] always kind of let me know that Darren Woodson was his guy. His best safety. So I've always kind of been chasing Woody in that way," Smith said, showing a hint of a grin. "But Zim' keeps me honest. It's been a pleasure to play for him."
The feeling is mutual.
Though Zimmer wasn't part of drafting Smith 29th overall in 2012 (and "technically" doesn't play favorites), he's always had an affinity for The Hitman.
"I feel like he's one of the best guys that I've ever had as a safety – and that includes a lot of really good players," Zimmer told Twin Cities media members Monday. "It's great to have him here, probably for the rest of his career.
"He's a great person … and he's really easy to talk to and coach. He'll try different things, he'll ask questions, he'll be really good in the back end – but also with the rest of the defense and the team," Zimmer added.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman traded up to draft Smith out of Notre Dame after Minnesota had worked with him at the Senior Bowl.
Smith started all 16 games as a rookie, nabbing three interceptions and recording two of his four career touchdowns. Despite missing time in 2013 due to injury, he picked off another two passes in just seven starts.
But when Zimmer arrived in 2014, the known DB guru elevated Smith's game even more.
"I kind of realized I didn't know that much about football," Smith said. "I've really learned a ton since he came in, not just as a safety but [in the] broader view of how the game is played offensively and defensively. What the line is doing, what the linebackers are doing, how corners see things, how offenses are trying to attack certain schemes. Just growing knowledge of the game is something I noticed immediately."
During his time in Minnesota, Smith has totaled 747 tackles (according to pro-football-reference.com), 39 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, eight fumble recoveries and seven forced fumbles. He's started all but one of his 130 games played.
Smith has received five Pro Bowl nods and in 2017 was named First-Team All-Pro by The Associated Press.
In the world of NFL players, Smith is practically considered over-the-hill at 32 years old. But someone forgot to tell him that, because the safety's play hasn't dropped off. The Vikings secondary struggled last season, but even then, Smith racked up five interceptions to match his career high.
"I think when I signed [an extension] in 2016, at the time you think, 'Will I be able to play at a high level throughout this entire deal?' " Smith reflected. "Focusing on the 'now' is what has allowed me to play my best football.
"I feel good," he later added. "I think every player you ask, 'How do you feel?' it's like, 'This is the best I've felt in my career.' I tell people I felt terrible playing in college. I felt like I was run down. I've always felt better in the league, and I still feel that way. My game is still to make a lot of plays, still play at a high level, and I plan on continuing that."
Smith has taken lessons over the years from peers who have prolonged their playing careers, including former cornerback Terence Newman, who played for the Vikings from age 37-39 before hanging up his cleats.
Smith and Newman have stayed in touch, and Smith certainly has learned to take a page from the elder DB's book.
"Watching him go about the seasons and the offseasons – I think he was 39 playing his last year at corner. I'm still not sure how he was able to manage that – he really took care of himself and knew what his body needed. It's not the same for everybody," Smith said. "He knew what he needed to get done on game day, so he prepared his body accordingly.
"I've definitely learned a lot from him in that regard," he added. "Sometimes doing a lot of extra things might not pay off how you want it to, it might just become more of a burden. That was kind of his approach to things. He was always ready on game day. I'll continue to reach out."
Zimmer also referenced Newman, whom he coached in Dallas, Cincinnati and in Minnesota, in discussing Smith's longevity.
"He's a little bit like Newman in the fact that he's very, very smart. He's very instinctive," Zimmer said. "I think that allows guys to play longer than [others] typically can. He's been fairly durable, which, for a safety, that's important. But he's really smart, and he sees things really quickly."
Smith has 8,616 defensive snaps under his belt in the regular and postseasons, and he hasn't developed any fatigue of the game.
Far from it.
"There's always a new challenge," Smith said. "Football has always had a special place with me, ever since I was a kid. If I mess up a play in practice, I think about it the rest of the day and watch the [film] – there's one yesterday or a couple days ago – I think about it for a while and watch the clip. I think I'll always have that."
View the best photos of Vikings S Harrison Smith from the 2020 season who signed a contract extension with the team.
NFL players don't often spend their entire career with one team, but Woodson did in Dallas from 1992-2003.
Smith is now on track to be with the Vikings even longer.
It's kind of crazy, when you think about it.
Smith has played in three of the four stadiums the Vikings have called "home," starting with the Metrodome and then weathering the U of Minnesota in 2014 and 2015 before helping open U.S. Bank Stadium in 2016. He's seen a coaching change, helmet and uniform changes and played in the NFL's final Pro Bowl hosted in Honolulu.
Smith called himself "proud" to have been a part of the Vikings family for a decade and counting.
"Zygi, Mark and Lenny Wilf, I love playing for their organization," he said of the Vikings Ownership. "I really appreciate the work that Rick Spielman and [Executive Vice President of Football Operations] Rob Brzezinski put into this deal, as well as Athletes First, my agents.
"I also have to say how much I appreciate playing for Zim' over all these years, how much I learned from him, playing in his defense and playing for him as a head coach, as well as every other coach I've had throughout the process," Smith continued.
He also thanked teammates he's had along the way, which have included not only former colleagues like Newman but also some whom he's spent the majority of his career with. Everson Griffen, a 2010 draft pick who recently returned to the team after a season away, Anthony Barr (2014) and Eric Kendricks (2015) are among those who have become Smith's second family.
"Man, that's what's up. That's my guy," Kendricks said of Smith's extension. "I've been in the trenches with him for a while now. It's definitely well-deserved. I'm always happy to see that. The guy's a baller, so it makes sense.
"It definitely is a rare thing [to stay with a team so long], but I feel like in this case, it's definitely the right thing because he's our guy, you know what I mean?" Kendricks continued. "It makes sense. I'm sure he's really happy about it, as well."
Smith is certainly happy, though he's always been someone who doesn't get too high or too low. Asked if he did anything special to celebrate, Smith responded "not really" before noting that his wife Madison got him cookies.
"Nothing crazy," he quipped.
And truly, that's just the way he likes it. He's not a flashy guy – which probably explains his "pretty simple" preference for chocolate chip or sugar cookies – and would rather redirect the spotlight elsewhere.
Even on such a big day.
"The teammates I've had have been phenomenal, since I came into Minnesota in 2012. I've learned a ton from a lot of them – defense, offense, whatever," Smith said. "To play as long as I have and to continue playing, it's not just an individual thing – it's a team thing. So I'm very grateful to those that have helped me along the way."