Andre Smith cited strong history with Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and the opportunity to compete in Minnesota as two main reasons he is excited to join his second NFL team.
The pot was further sweetened for the former Bengals tackle by the presence of Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater on offense, a core of defensive players who helped the Vikings win the NFC North in 2015 and by Smith making a visit to U.S. Bank Stadium earlier this week.
"I'm exuberant for the opportunity to come in and compete with a really good nucleus of players and an overall good team," Smith told Vikings.com Friday after the announcement of his signing. "It's a chance to do big things."
Smith visited the Vikings Sunday and Monday. He tweeted a picture of his Vikings nameplate on Thursday, and the deal became official Friday.
"I know they have one of the best, if not the best running back in football in the backfield, and also with Teddy Bridgewater being one of the better young quarterbacks in the NFL. He's doing a tremendous job," Smith said on the phone from his home state of Alabama. "The defense is tremendous, with [Anthony] Barr being the great linebacker that he is, and [Harrison] Smith playing safety the way he does, that there's a young nucleus of players that compete and have fun on Sundays. I'm excited I get an opportunity to be part of that."
Walking into U.S. Bank Stadium, which is more than 90 percent complete, left an impression on the sixth overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft.
"That thing is enormous," said Smith, listed at 6-foot-4 and 325 pounds by Cincinnati. "It's huge. I wasn't expecting it to be that big when I saw it in person. Words can't even explain it."
It was clear that Zimmer, despite working primarily on the opposite side of the ball from Smith as Cincinnati's defensive coordinator, left a lasting impression. Zimmer was with the Bengals from 2008-13 before being hired by the Vikings.
"He's been like a father figure, always telling me to work hard, keep my head down, don't pay attention to the media, what they're saying," Smith said during a conference call with Twin Cities media members. "He knows the football player I am and saw the growth in me as a man from my younger years in Cincinnati to maturing to the man I am right now."
Smith started 73 of the 82 regular season games he played in Cincinnati, including 68 of 69 at right tackle since 2011. Smith joined Terence Newman (signed in 2015 and **re-signed for 2016**) and Emmanuel Lamur (**signed earlier this month**) as former Bengals to reunite with Zimmer.
View images of new Vikings OL Andre Smith from his days as a Bengal.
Smith's 73 starts are third-most by a Vikings offensive lineman, behind center John Sullivan (93) and right tackle Phil Loadholt (89), who both missed all of last season because of injuries.
The Vikings were the only team in the NFL to have the same five offensive linemen — LT Matt Kalil, LG Brandon Fusco, C Joe Berger, RG Mike Harris, RT T.J. Clemmings — start all 16 games in 2015, but have committed to adding competition and depth.
Minnesota agreed on deals to bring back Harris and Loadholt. All of the players are scheduled to return, and the Vikings also **signed*** *guard Alex Boone from San Francisco when the free agency gates opened.
Smith said he is interested in doing whatever he can to make the Vikings better through competing for a position or even working at a new position if asked.
"I wanted to go somewhere where they had a really good team, a chance to win and a great locker room, great ownership and a great leader in Coach Zimmer," Smith said. "I'm just trying to take advantage of what I have in front of me right now. Yes, it's a one-year deal, and yes it's an opportunity for me to join a great team. I feel like I can make this team better and continue to work hard and show my efforts on Sundays with my teammates in front of fans."