THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. — Vikings defenders won't be starting from scratch when workouts begin anew this spring, safety Harrison Smith said while participating in the 20th Arctic Blast.
Smith said returning players will have the benefit of the terminology used to describe Mike Zimmer's defense and the benefit of having enacted it in 2014, Zimmer's first season in Minnesota in which the Vikings drastically improved their defensive statistics.
"I think it will give us a better place to start this year instead of trying to learn kind of a new language, how Coach Zimmer talks, the things that he says to describe our jobs and learn a new defense," Smith said. "We don't have to do that this year, maybe a couple of rookies will, but we have a good understanding and hopefully we can deepen that understanding."
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman has spoken about the important foundation he saw Zimmer establish, which will be helpful to the personnel department as they survey top prospects next week at the NFL Combine and prepare for free agency, which begins March 10.
Rosters experience additions and subtractions each year, but Smith is a key building block for the defense. He and other players with experience will be able to pass along the elements they learned on the fly last season. That knowledge has the opportunity to accelerate learning during organized team activity workouts in May and June so that training camp can open smoothly when the Vikings return to Mankato.
Right now, however, is a window for a little rest, relaxation and recuperation. Smith joined Kyle Rudolph, Charles Johnson, Adam Thielen, Phil Loadholt and Brandon Fusco in visiting the annual fundraising event for the Vikings Children's Fund.
"Right after the season ends, really just take some time off for your body, get off your feet, get your mind off football, just so when you come back, you come back 100 percent ready to go and completely committed," Smith said. "I think that's the best way to do it, so when you come back, you just jump in."
View images from Friday's Team Vikings vs. Team Thief River Falls football game from the 2015 Arctic Blast.
Smith didn't let a bandage on his left hand from what he described to Star Tribune reporter Matt Vensel as "just a little fix-up from the season" slow him down at stops to sign autographs and take photos with fans at "Blast Points" or during a visit to a Sanford Health hospital in the town of almost 9,000 people in northwest Minnesota. He and current players also were referees for a friendly game between a team of Vikings alumni and staff and a team from Thief River Falls.
"It's just a great event," Smith said. "While the (alumni and staff) are off snowmobiling and having a good time, we get to visit with fans and go to hospitals and try to brighten some people's days and have a good time."
Smith, who led the Vikings with 120 tackles (coaches' tally) and five interceptions, is likely to stick to playing the game instead of officiating it.
"I don't think we have a future in being referees, but it was a good time," he said. "The arena over there that we reffed at was nice."