Smoot's silence is broken
Judd Zulgad, Star Tribune
August 24, 2005 V
Fred Smoot was back on the practice field this week, but the Vikings cornerback wasn't himself.
The injuries that slowed Smoot during training camp weren't an issue -- he was moving pretty well. The unusual aspect was the decibel level -- or, more accurately, the lack of it. Smoot being in midseason form means no one is safe from his verbal offerings, and by his standards, he had taken a vow of silence Monday.
"I'm always on top of my [talking] game, but I was just really trying to focus on getting my body where it needs to be," Smoot said.
Smoot had good reason for being more concerned about his physical well-being than his trash talking. After missing the first two preseason games, he is expected to make his first exhibition appearance Friday against San Diego. Tuesday -- a day in which coach Mike Tice confirmed Smoot's motormouth was running closer to normal -- marked only his fourth full day of practice.
"It has been really frustrating," said Smoot, one of the Vikings' five new defensive starters. "Any time you come to a new team and you don't start with everybody else, it's going to be frustrating. Then a guy like me that loves to play. I love to get out there and interact with the guys. I haven't been able to do that so, yeah, it's been frustrating."
Aches and pains
Smoot's problems started before training camp, when he strained his neck while lifting weights. He was placed on the physically unable to perform list and missed the first week of camp. Two days after his return, he suffered a soft tissue contusion in his right knee. The pain lingered long enough that he had an MRI to make sure the damage wasn't more extensive. Everything checked out all right.
"I was worried because that's stuff you never know about until they actually look at it," Smoot said. "I was scared. I didn't want any setbacks."
The Vikings, who invested a $10.8 million signing bonus to lure Smoot from Washington, would have to agree. That's why the 26-year-old from Mississippi State will be watched closely and used cautiously Friday night.
"It's going to take him some time to get his rhythm down, and we certainly have to be intelligent," Tice said. "Smoot is a thoroughbred and thoroughbreds need their legs more than anything. So we want to make sure that he has his legs. He hasn't been through training camp. So we've got to be very careful not to let his tremendous enthusiasm, tremendous energy, tremendous passion keep me from making the best decision, which is to take it slow with him."
Easy does it
Tice apparently already has gotten the message across to Smoot.
"Like Coach Tice told me, I can't get out there and try to jump back in and try to run and get where I was," Smoot said. "I've got to step up the ladder. So basically I've just got to be smart right now instead of trying to be who I am."
That would be a player who led Washington in interceptions for three consecutive seasons (2001-03), becoming the first person in franchise history to accomplish that feat. Smoot's 16 picks since his rookie season in 2001 rank among the leaders for NFL cornerbacks.
He managed to remain relatively healthy in his stint with the Redskins, missing four games in four seasons. The only game he missed last season came in the regular-season finale against the Vikings, when he had a lower back injury.
Kevin Ross, the Vikings' assistant secondary coach and a defensive back in the NFL for 14 seasons, is confident that a couple of preseason games will give Smoot enough time to get ready.
"Two games will be fine for him," Ross said. "You're just concerned about his timing. Coming out in hitting shape."
Smoot will be joined at the other corner by Antoine Winfield, the Vikings' major offseason free-agent signing in 2004. The pair should enable the Vikings to play a majority of man-to-man coverage and will give defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell options he didn't necessarily have in 2004.
"We hope to do very well," Ross said, surely trying to keep expectations in check. "If the [corners] can hold up, then we can do a lot more with the people inside. The more 'man' you can play, the better off you are. You can do a lot of things. You can turn people loose up front. You don't have to worry about the guys on the outside. So if they hold up like we think they can, then we'll be a better defense."
And Smoot, rest assured, will be back to his fast-talking ways.
Good article! I hope he stays healthy the rest of the year, I want to see him and Winfield in action back there TOGETHER.
Man I can't wait to see him on the field. I hope they are smart about this though and stick to there plan of taking it slow. It wouldn't be good for him to get injured again.