After the announcement Monday of safety Harrison Smith's contract extension with the Vikings, Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar took pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – and said that Minnesota is building a foundation for the NFL's next great defense.
When Smith said he couldn't imagine a better place to play, Farrar noted how Smith "fits with Head Coach Mike Zimmer's defensive concepts, and how Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman have assembled a defense with the potential to carry the Vikings while their offense is in transition."
Farrar identified a number of difference makers in Zimmer's defense in addition to Smith: Anthony Barr, Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph.
Farrar said that Barr has expanded his skillset beyond that of a talented edge rusher, as he was known at UCLA.
Farrar wrote that fourth-round pick Griffen has "[proven] that mid-round designation wrong" in his six seasons with the Vikings, earning his first Pro Bowl nod following the 2015 season.
*From [wide outside], Griffen uses his top-level combination of explosion off the snap, flexibility to bend the edge and tremendous upper-body strength. Though his game is primarily about velocity and leverage, Griffen can also win with inside and outside moves. *
When it comes to Joseph, Farrar said the nose tackle often doesn't receive the recognition he receives because he does a lot of grunt work. Joseph, however, is an anchor for Minnesota's defensive line.
Joseph can rack up sacks, but that's not really his primary role. He's the guy who sets the physical tone at the line so that the players around him can do spectacular things.
Farrar used the Seahawks and Broncos as models for top defenses in the league and said the Vikings are effectively building a unit that could be equally as dominant.
A dominant pass rusher or two, a pace-setting nose tackle, and one of the best safeties in the league? That's a great start to a championship defense.
Harrison Smith another mainstay in Vikings defense
As the most recent Vikings to sign a contract extension with the team, Smith became another installment in Minnesota's defense.
Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press focused his Tuesday column on Smith's extension and what it means for the Vikings. He wrote:
Having anchored their defensive line with long-term deals for Everson Griffen and Brian Robison, the defending NFC North champions wisely secured their back end by locking up a grateful Smith for five more years.
Murphy pointed out experienced strength on the defensive line with Everson Griffen and Brian Robison that a handful of Smith's teammates also have opportunities for extensions coming down the pike, including Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and former UCLA teammates Barr and Eric Kendricks.
"That's part of the reason why I'm so happy to stay here, is that we have so many of those guys," said Smith in a press conference Tuesday. "You just want to be around each other. You want to go make plays for each other. You want to be in the right spot so the other guy can make the play. That's a big part of it."
In his four seasons with Minnesota, Smith has totaled 402 tackles (coaches tally), 5.5 sacks, 26 passes defensed, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 12 interceptions, four of which he's returned for touchdowns. Spielman traded back up into the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft to snag Smith, and the safety has been proving it was a good decision ever since.
"Really, this, to me, is motivating," he said. "Rick took me at the end of the first round, and at the time, that might have been a bit of a reach, what people thought, and I always use that, I always wanted to make him right, and I think I'll look at this the same way going forward."
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has referred to his team as "blue collar," and Smith embodies that concept through his leadership, loyalty and work ethic. Murphy wrote:
*Smith is not a trash talker on the field or rabble-rouser in the locker room, but his quiet intensity accounts for a sizable chunk of Minnesota's soul. *
Matt Kalil embracing competition at offensive line
The Vikings have enormous depth at offensive line on their current 90-man roster, and that's just the way Spielman and Zimmer want it. Spielman told "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen Tuesday that he appreciates the competition being fostered among the offensive linemen, and tackle Matt Kalil agrees that it's a positive thing. Viking Update's John Holler wrote:
*Kalil isn't threatened by the signings, he's excited by it, because he feels that the more talent the Vikings have on the offensive line, the better it will be as a group. *
"This is the most veteran guys we've ever had in the offensive line room," Kalil told Holler. "It's creating great competition, and we're all motivating each other. We're improving wherever we can and we're looking to get better every day. I think everyone is excited about what we can accomplish this year.
"I thrive on competition and I think we have as much talent on this line right now as we've had at any time I've been here," Kalil added. "I like to play under pressure, so, if anything, knowing that this is the final year of my rookie deal is only going to make me play better to prove that I belong with this group. It's a good thing."