Skip to main content

News | Minnesota Vikings –

Mike Smith's Grit Helping Withstand Hits from Za'Darius Smith & Danielle Hunter

EAGAN, Minn. — Mike Smith appears in totality to be a football guy or gal's football guy.

From the old-school style sweats (think Scott Studwell-ian, Vikings fans), to progressing through pain in the name of helping a team get better, to colorful quotes he delivered Tuesday in his first scrum with Twin Cities media members.

"You can't be half-pregnant," Smith said when explaining he wants players unafraid to go make plays. That aggressiveness, however, comes with the caveat of continuing to do one's job without putting the team in jeopardy.

"He can scratch his ankle standing up," Smith said of Danielle Hunter's arm length — and later matched that description for Janarius Robinson, whose 35.25-inch arms are even longer than Hunter's (34.25).

The other phrase that most stood out Tuesday was, "I'm not just saying that to pee on your leg and tell you it's raining."

Smith made that comment to reinforce his believe that he's working with a "really good room" full of outside linebackers in his first season with Minnesota.

An NFL position coach can be a refining force, molding clay and sharpening blades to take incredibly gifted athletes to yet another level.

Mike Smith has a proven track record for that, but based on open Vikings practices this spring, he's also a sparring partner — a punching bag with arms that counter and the willingness to withstand Pro Bowl edge rushers Hunter and Za'Darius Smith.

Mike Smith coached Za'Darius Smith in each of the past three seasons with Green Bay, with the former helping the latter record 13.5 sacks in 2019 and 12.5 more the following year en route to the outside linebacker's first two career Pro Bowls.

Both Smiths battled through injuries last year. The coach is often seen wearing a brace on his right wrist/forearm. He didn't have it on during the interview, allowing a glimpse at his swollen, surgically repaired appendage.

"Long story short, last summer right before training camp, I fell off a treehouse 22 feet and shattered it," Smith said. "Did all this stuff to try to fix it that didn't work so they took all the bones out and put a rod in."

Smith was making the finishing cut on the roof of the treehouse when he somehow slipped.

"I got lucky," he said, knowing the fall could have been much worse.

Yet the former NFL linebacker (14 games with the Ravens from 2005-06 before his career ended because of injury) keeps coming out for the pummeling in practices, believing it is a great location to build trust with his players. He has coached in college or the NFL since 2009.

"[Trust is built] out here on the field. I've coached and played long enough in this league to understand these players," Mike Smith said. "As soon as they think you can't give something to them or they're not entertained or they're not learning, then they're done with you. So I'm always working. I'm here early in the morning working and late at night to help these guys be successful. That's how you build trust.

"Not to pat myself on the back, but I think my résumé speaks for itself. When I show them the plays, I'm not making anything up or making up my own moves or any of that type stuff," he added. "I'm not claiming I've done any of this, I just work hard and expect these guys to work hard. I do my own drills. I just had wrist surgery and have a big rod in there and just got the cast off, but I'm still punching them in the face and working hands and all that stuff. I think they see that stuff and know if I'm willing to put the time and work, they're going to do it, too."

After dealing with a back injury that kept him out of all but the season-opener and Green Bay's playoff loss to San Francisco, Za'Darius Smith was excited to reunite with Mike Smith and former Packers assistant Mike Pettine.

"It just felt like family. I already have two coaches here – Mike [Smith] and [Mike] Pettine. It just felt like home to me," Za'Darius Smith said during his intro press conference. "Walking in, the cafeteria – the people in the cafeteria – from the GM himself, the head coach. Just everybody – they came in with open arms, and I love it. That's what made me go with the Minnesota Vikings."

Za'Darius Smith and Hunter have formed quite the bond quickly, building on their initial meeting at the Pro Bowl a couple years back.

"I always focus on the fundamentals," Hunter said last month. "So to have a guy like that come in who's always focused on the fundamentals, same thing with our coach, he's the same way. So I feel like us bringing that to the table and the young guys having their confidence, I feel like the sky's the limit for our group."

Mike Smith said he believes each member of the duo will feed off the other.

"Both of those guys are veteran guys, known guys, known rushers — really good rushers. I know a lot about Danielle, obviously from being in Green Bay and studying him for years," Mike Smith said. "I think they're going to help each other; I think they both play well off each other. They both kind of bring a different kind of skill set when you watch them, but it's good to have both of them. You've gotta have two in this league to be successful."