Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 2, 2015 Issue

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 103 of 111

IRISH IN THE PROS BY ANDREW OWENS L ess than a decade ago, Notre Dame couldn't figure out which defensive position best suited Harrison Smith's skills. In his first three sea- sons in South Bend, he switched between safety and linebacker with mixed results. Not until head coach Brian Kelly and defensive co- ordinator Bob Diaco ar- rived in 2010 did Smith grow into the safety position, a place where he thrived during his final two seasons with the Irish and now in the NFL. A s e a r l y a s t w o years ago, wide re- ceivers said publicly they regarded Smith as the NFL's hardest hitter, a repu- tation he continues to uphold and build upon. Smith's coverage skills do not receive as much attention, but have become just as noteworthy. According to Pro Football Focus, a website that analyzes and evaluates players for NFL teams, Smith is the top professional safety with an opposing passer rating of 0.0. The Irish product is in his fourth sea- son and won't hit free agency until after the 2016 campaign, but he is on the trajectory for a major payday. "I don't think too much about it, es- pecially after [a few] games," Smith told reporters of the ranking. "We've still got a lot of football to play, so I just try to im- prove on what I'm do- ing and just try to keep a level head. "To be honest, I've always thought that, even before I played [in the NFL]. I think if you're a competitor, that's what you always think. All the other people can rank [me] where they want, but that's always my mind- set." S m i t h h a s i n t e r- cepted 11 passes dur- ing his NFL career and returned three for touchdowns. His playmaking abil- ity also includes three forced fumbles and 25 passes broken up. "[Smith] is another guy that does a lot of things that don't really get rec- ognized," Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said. "He's not getting the in- terceptions [this season], but he hasn't had many opportunities. He's doing a good job in pressure, good job in run Harrison Smith Respected As Top Safety Smith recorded 26 tackles, one forced fumble and one interception in the Minnesota Vikings' first four games this season. PHOTO COURTESY MINNESOTA VIKINGS

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