Published August 09, 2006 01:01 am

It wasn’t the way Dwight Smith wanted to win the Vikings’ starting safety spot, watching his top competition get carted off the practice field.

[size=18px]Safety insurance[/size]
Smith sorry to see Williams go down, ready to step up into starting role


By Shane Frederick
The Free Press


MANKATO —
It wasn’t the way Dwight Smith wanted to win the Vikings’ starting safety spot, watching his top competition get carted off the practice field.

Smith wanted to win it fair and square. On his performance. On his merits. After a fun, hard-fought training camp.

But Tank Williams went down with a fractured kneecap Saturday, and suddenly, the signing of Smith just before training camp looked like the Vikings’ savviest move of the offseason.

“I feel like if I need to win the position then I can win the position,” Smith said after practice Tuesday morning. “But if I can’t beat him, I don’t want him to get hurt for me to play. That’s the kind of guy that I am.”

Williams was placed on injured reserve and was scheduled to have surgery Tuesday afternoon in Birmingham, Ala.

“It hurts, man,” Smith said. “You hate to see any athlete get hurt, and when it’s a teammate of yours, it makes it even harder.”

Williams signed as a free agent from the Tennessee Titans in March. Smith signed just a week before training camp began, after being released from the New Orleans Saints.

The inking of Smith ended up being a sound insurance policy.

“It just ends up being fortunate that Dwight is on our football team now,” coach Brad Childress said.

Even though he hadn’t gone through the Vikings’ minicamps and offseason workouts, Smith said he’s been welcomed in by his teammates.

“Even the guys that I was fighting with for a position, a la Tank Williams and Willie Offord,” Smith said. “Those guys accepted me with open arms.”

A 5-foot-10, 200-pounder who is in his sixth NFL season, Smith is best known for returning two interceptions for touchdowns and helping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win Super Bowl XXXVII.

When Smith joined the Vikings, he not only reunited with defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin, his old position coach from Tampa, but the quarterback of that championship team, Brad Johnson.

“(Smith’s) a headhunter,” Johnson said. “He knows how to play the game. Very smart, especially coming into this system. I think he helps all of the other guys out as far as believing in system and buying into the system. He makes plays. He’s very aggressive.”

Johnson’s presence in Minnesota was even a factor in his signing, Smith said, “It’s unfortunate what happened with Tank,” Johnson said. “Love the guy. The guy is a playmaker. It’s just part of the game, and we all move on. It’s tough for Tank right now.

“But Dwight is a great pickup for us. I’m glad he’s with us.”


Safety insurance