MANKATO, Minn. — It's not uncommon to see Harrison Smith crowding the line of scrimmage on one play and deep in centerfield on the next.
He blends blitzing with ball hawking or comes down hill to support the run defense.
The Minnesota safety said Monday that one of the best parts about playing under Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is the creativity the clever coach comes up with for the players at Smith's position.
"Zim's safeties get to have a lot of fun," Smith said. "We get to be all over the place, so I don't know what more he could have us do.
"I'm sure there's more, because he's always creating new stuff," he added. "Whatever he dials up, we're all in."
Smith cautioned that Zimmer isn't some mad scientist drawing up plays in a lab somewhere.
The Pro Bowler said that Zimmer's first priority is to make sure Minnesota's most basic defensive concepts are set in stone before the Vikings go and try something drastic.
"He's definitely about perfecting it first," said Smith, who added he tries to hang out around Zimmer and pick up tips. "Before you go into doing more things, he wants to make sure that we're perfect in what we do, and I think that's why you've seen us become more successful as he has been here.
"We have to get more successful on top of that," he added. "There's really no point where just everything's great. You're going against Pro Bowlers every day, so you've got to bring your 'A' game."
View images from the Monday, August 1 practice at Verizon Vikings Training Camp.
One element that helps the Vikings in getting things down pat is the fact they return every defensive starter from 2015, plus a handful of players who saw meaningful game action as well.
Smith said returning more than a dozen players who knows Zimmer's system is a definite plus.
"The continuity is the thing that is not necessarily going to make plays for us, but it's going to help us kind of jell easier," Smith said. "We generally understand the defense.
"We still have a lot of work to do, but just the familiarity with one another can help us," he added. "We have to take advantage of it. Like I said, there's a lot of work to be done."
The 27-year-old recorded 87 tackles (56 solo), six quarterback hurries, three tackles for loss, two interceptions, 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
The former Notre Dame standout said one thing he loves about his fellow defensive backs is the tenacity and swagger they all bring to the back end.
"I think you have to have high confidence, especially as a guy in the secondary," Smith said. "Especially those corners outside playing by themselves, and then as the safeties, we want to help them.
"We want them to know that we're there for them," he added. "You just need a unity in the group, that you've kind of got each other's backs. There's a confidence, not only in yourself, but in the whole group."
Kendricks settling in after strong rookie season
Zimmer had one of the most humorous quotes of training camp when he told reporters Saturday that Eric Kendricks looks like he's drinking less coffee at this point than a year ago.
While Zimmer meant the second-year linebacker is less jittery and more relaxed, Kendricks agreed with the notion on Monday.
"Sounds about right," Kendricks said with a laugh. "I'm getting a little more comfortable and the playbook is under my belt for a year now.
"I'm just trying to get better every day," he added. "They taught me to stay in the scheme of the defense, and everything will work out for itself."
Kendricks was a second-round pick out of UCLA in 2015 who led the Vikings with 105 tackles during his rookie year, taking over as a starter for the final 12 games of the season.
He said there were some difficult moments being the quarterback of the defense but that the team wouldn't have given him such a role if they didn't believe in his abilities.
As he enters his second pro season, Kendricks said he's focused on using his instincts to figure out what opposing offenses are going to run before the ball is even snapped.
He said his effort and desire to get to the ball have to be there on every single play.
"My goal this year is to understand what the (opposing) offense is doing and get a little jump on the reads," Kendricks said. "Just get a little faster to the ball."
Veteran linebacker Chad Greenway said both Kendricks and Anthony Barr both use their brains to a high level on the field.
"The biggest thing is their mental game is so strong," Greenway said. "Yes, they're good physically, and they're young and spry and all the things I once was.
"It's amazing, the mental game and where they're at," he added. "Really that's the most impressive part about their game, their want to be great and not just physically but mentally, which will really give them the edge, especially when they get worn down at the end of the season."
With only 11 days until the preseason opener in Cincinnati, Kendricks said he's doing all he can to get ramped up for the upcoming season.
"I'm just trying to build every day," Kendricks said. "These camp days are crucial as far as the meeting room and film study … as far as my development."
Veteran Hill still enjoying daily grind
Veteran Shaun Hill is the Vikings longest-tenured played in the league as he enters his 15th season in the NFL.
Over time, the quarterback has learned to keep things simple, especially regarding his daily mindset.
Hill said after Monday's walk-through that his love for the game hasn't waned, and his focus is on improving a little bit at each practice.
"I certainly appreciate every opportunity, and I always have," Hill said. "When I came in, my goal was to get one year in the NFL. And then the next training camp, my goal was to get two years in the NFL. And it's gone that way ever since.
"My goal right now is to get 15 years and improve every single day," he added. "It's kind of the situation I've been in and the way my career has gone but that's how it's been for me, and I wouldn't change it."
Hill said he's formed a strong bond with starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater since signing as a free agent last offseason, noting the third-year quarterback often comes to him for advice.
Hill noted training camp is a different story as he and Bridgewater are mainly focused on individual improvements.
"This time of year, we're in meetings all the time, all day long," Hill said. "This time of year my job is to improve every single day, and we have coaches that take care of all that stuff.
"During the season when they have to game plan or they're getting stuff situated and it's kind of after-hours for us … that's kind of when he and I have our time to do all that stuff," he added.
As the second-oldest player on the roster at 36 years old (cornerback Terence Newman is 37), Hill said he often chats with non-quarterbacks during practice about particular plays.
Not that the veteran seeks out attention for helping out his younger teammates, he would just rather keep things simple.
"A lot of times I'm asking him if he saw it how I saw it just to reaffirm myself," Hill said. "
"I don't necessarily push that, especially this time of year," Hill said. "But if something is brought up or if someone comes to me with something, yeah I'm definitely happy to talk about it."
Crichton moves inside on D-Line
After being drafted as a defensive end out of Oregon State in 2014, Scott Crichton is now working with the defensive tackles.
Zimmer announced the position switch Sunday, saying the team is hoping to more frequently involve the former third-round pick.
"In college, he played real hard and did a lot of dirty work," Zimmer said. "He was going all the time. He was a very productive player.
"When we drafted him, we thought he might be an end with moving in on nickel rush ability, but I think he's more inclined to be an all-the-time-inside player that can slide out once in a while," he added.
The 24-year-old Crichton said Sunday that he's all for the position switch if it means helping the team be successful.
He said the biggest changes is dealing with maulers such as centers and guards rather than more athletic tackles.
"It's the same technique, same everything, just bigger bodies," Crichton said. "That's the only adjustment, I just have to hold my anchor down but I think I'm steadily improving."
Crichton saw limited action last season before missing the final four games with an injury.
"There's no pressure at all. I've just got to do me. If I get cut, I get cut," Crichton said. "I'm just going to do my best, though."
Plummer rejoins Vikings
The Vikings on Monday announced the signing of linebacker Terrance Plummer.
Plummer played three games for Washington as a rookie in 2015 before being waived and signed to the Vikings practice squad in late October.
Plummer spent five weeks on Minnesota's practice squad in his first stint with the team. After being waived for a week, Plummer was brought back for the final four weeks of the regular season and the week of the postseason.
Play of the day
Third down is a critical down in football because of its ability to sustain offensive possessions.
The Vikings offense faced a third-and-10 in 7-on-7 drills Monday, and Bridgewater connected with Charles Johnson over the middle of the field with a several yards to spare. Bridgewater placed the ball high enough so that Johnson could utilize his leaping ability and length, yet still get down to protect himself from opposing defenders.
The Vikings tied for 19th in the NFL last season with a conversion rate of 38.2 percent, so it's an area where the team can continue to improve.
It might not make every highlight reel and was only in 7-on-7, but it's the type of play that makes the difference in building momentum or having to punt.
"We're trying to work each and every day – we have to prepare. We can't just talk about being number one – we have to show it. You can talk all about it if you want to, but we have to go out there, execute the game plan and play at a high level." — Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn on the defense's daily mentality to be one of the best units in the league.