EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –Harrison Smith may not have been voted into the Pro Bowl this season, but ask his coaches and teammates, and they'll tell you that he's one of the league's top safeties.
Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards and Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur each were asked about Smith, and both had nothing but praise for the 28-year-old.
"Harry pays attention to the details of everything from week-to-week," Edwards said. "Understanding, number one, what we're trying to do. Understanding what teams are going to try to do to us. [He does a great job of communication, helping us get lined up, and different pass-offs and coverages and those kinds of things.
"He's a heck of a player around the line of scrimmage, and he does an excellent job on the back end for us," Edwards continued. "In my opinion, he's a really good player for us."
From an offensive perspective, Shurmur is glad that Smith is playing for the Vikings rather than against.
Shurmur said that game-planning for Smith would be challenging.
"[He's] good in the back end, he's got excellent ball skills, so on those tipped balls and over-throws he can finish the play with the ball in his hands," Shurmur said. "He's an excellent tackler, and then when he plays man-to-man he's a matchup problem because of his size on your tight ends. Certainly he's a tough one to go against."
While it's important for an offense to always be aware of where defenders are on the field, Smith could require extra attention.
"We need to know if he's in the quarters, in the half, or in the middle of the field. And in Harry's case, a lot of times he's down low, certainly," Shurmur said. "That's part of the quarterback's checklist, to check the cushion of the corners and location of the safeties, so our eyes would be on him."
Here are other topics covered by Edwards, Shurmur and Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer during their podium sessions Thursday:
Shurmur on handling cold-weather games
Minnesota is preparing for a bitter-cold Border Battle this weekend.
Saturday night's game will mark Case Keenum's first time playing at Lambeau Field and also first time in a game below 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to Shurmur, the biggest effect harsh temps can have is on ball security.
"It's just handling the football. We had two good days of practicing in the cold, which is good," Shurmur said. "Case is actually throwing the ball pretty well, and that's a good thing. But, otherwise it's just a matter of handling the ball. You see late in the year, especially in cold-weather games, where ball security is really at a premium."
Added Shurmur: "We've been pretty good about securing the football most of the year in most of our games, and we've got to continue to do that."
Shurmur on the Packers defense
Green Bay's defense hasn't put up quite the stats this season that is has in the past, but Shurmur said Minnesota needs to be aware of certain attributes the unit brings.
"I think they play well in the two-shell, so they'll play two deep, and they'll stop the run and pressure the quarterback by doing that," Shurmur said of the Packers defense. "A lot of teams can't do that, so I think they do a good job there."
Specifically, Shurmur pointed out, the Packers have shown an ability to affect the quarterback.
As a team, Green Bay has 32 sacks this season and is led by linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry who have 7.5 and 7.0 sacks, respectively. Matthews and Perry are both on this week's injury report.
"They've got some outstanding players on the inside and the outside," Shurmur said. "I like the way their inside linebackers (Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez) are playing. They're pretty instinctive guys, so we're going to have be on our game, both run and pass."
Edwards on Hunter's increased comfort in year 3
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer recently said he feels that Danielle Hunter has been thinking less and playing freer in year three.
"I think the more experience he's gotten, he's gotten a lot more comfortable with what teams are trying to do to us schematically, what they're trying to do to him on an individual basis, as far as the pass rush," Edwards said. "I think he's grown a lot. I think last [week against the Bengals] was probably one of his best games.
"He came off the ball pretty much all game and kind of reacted to things and wasn't thinking too much, so I thought last week he really exploded off the football," Edwards added.
Edwards on Hundley's progression
The last time Minnesota played Green Bay, backup quarterback Brett Hundley entered the game after Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone.
In the weeks since their last meeting, Edwards said Hundley has progressed as the Packers quarterback, and the Vikings defense is preparing for him after Rodgers returned for one game last week and was put back on season-ending injured reserve.
"I mean, you look at his production since he came into our game," Edwards said. "He looks a lot more comfortable in his mannerisms, operating what they're trying to get accomplished offensively, his communication, and getting them in the right matches and people in the right plays, the right protection, all of those things. It looks like he's a lot more comfortable with what they're asking him to do."
Priefer on effect of harsh weather on special teams
While the Vikings aren't intimidated by the forecast of single-digit Fahrenheit temperatures Saturday night, they are aware of the impact that harsh weather can have on a game plan.
Priefer said that weather plays into a number of situational decisions for special teams units.
"How we kickoff, where we kickoff, is it going to be directional, are we going to try to drive it as far as we can, are we going to hang it up there so the wind can take it?" Priefer explained. "Field goal-wise, what's the distance going one way or the other way? Which hash is better than the other way depending on the cross wind?"
Priefer said some of those factors will be figured out during pregame, while others have been evaluated from film study of the Packers specialists and how they and their opponents have handled situations and performed.
"So, there's a lot of decisions to be made," Priefer said. "Much more difficult, obviously, than an indoor game."
Priefer on Kearse's contributions
In his second NFL season, safety Jayron Kearse has made a positive impact for the Vikings, primarily in a special teams role.
Priefer said that Kearse has played extremely well and is a unique athlete.
"[He's] stronger than you think he is because he's so thin. But, he's also faster than you think he is because he's so long – you think he's not traveling as fast as he is when he really is fast," Priefer said, "He's done a great job for us in, really, all four core phases."
Priefer said that it's "more difficult" for a player of Kearse's size and stature to contribute extensively in the punt return and kickoff return game but that he's "getting better" in both areas.
"As long as you match him up against the right guys, he's done a nice job for us," Priefer said. "I think he likes his role, he's having fun with his role. Like a lot of those guys that are kind of biding their time, waiting their time to become a starter on offense or defense.
"That's what we try to do here, try to develop those young guys," Priefer added. "Tell those offensive and defensive coaches that we're developing them for those guys for the future. He's done a real nice job for us."