Being that I will be at NFL Training Camps nearly every day, I want to take a few moments each day to break down a new player or two that I am relatively unfamiliar with (i.e. a guy that I haven’t worked with before). So in addition to the time that I am spending there analyzing my own players I am going to put out some content including insight regarding what types of things I am see popping out at first glance with some of these other guys.
It should be noted that most of the time I would extensively dissect player’s movement during game analysis which would include frame-by-frame breakdown to truly get an idea of what’s happening when he moves. Thus, I am going to likely miss a lot with these very brief evaluations based on my visual analysis of the guy playing live. Obviously, with the extent of detail that I usually go into with analysis of a player’s strengths and weaknesses, if I was doing this in preparation for working with the guy I would take the time to watch an extensive amount of game-film to see him play in multiple situations. This will be a limitation during camp practices as there are only so many plays that you get a chance to see from each guy.
Yesterday, instead of evaluating a newcomer to the Vikings like I have the last 2 days, I decided to take a peek at an already established player at his position who I don’t personally know. Granted, many of the stud starters are on a very limited rep count throughout camp (and rightfully so) so it sometimes makes this type of analysis difficult to do. However, I will also be able to draw upon some of things that may have inadvertently jumped out to me in my past video analysis of my own guys. That all said, I decided to personally watch starting Free Safety, Harrison Smith. Last year, obviously Harrison was able to make a major impact on the team and across the league with numerous game-changing plays each and every week. With the loss of the leadership in the defensive backfield with the departure of one of my guys, Antoine Winfield, Smith will need to be one to step up and help fill this role.
I remember watching Smith in camp a lot last year and it’s funny because he always seemed to be on edge. He got chippy on more than one occasion (even pretty firey with Percy on a number of occasions if I remember correctly) and I’m sure that many under the facility roof were excited about that quality from their new blue-chip safety. Up to this point this year he has appeared much more subdued which usually comes with time in the league when guys begin to realize how wearing and tearing Camp can be so they end up pulling back a bit as they get acclimated to life in the league. Now, I am not saying that last year he was out there trying to injure any of his teammates but you could definitely see that he was out to prove himself to all in attendance.
At the same time, I also remember seeing him perform in individual drills last year at camp and honestly not being overly impressed by his movement skills. But then when live sessions would come (or more importantly then on Sundays during the regular season) he was all over the damn place up on guys’ sh*t over and over throughout the game. I think the same thing will apply this year.
What I mean by this is that at first glance he doesn’t appear to be overly athletic but he takes very good advantage of his motor potential when you consider the open/chaotic nature of the game versus a more preprogrammed sport demand (such as movement in track & field). This requirement is obviously how the game is played and much more dependent on instincts and a lot less on sheer athletic movement qualities. On that note, the one thing that you can easily see is how much more comfortable he is with the speed of the game and his tactical responsibilities within the system. This comfort level will allow the already-fast cognitive and perceptual processing that needs to occur at his position to occur more fluidly for him and make him appear faster and more explosive than he may be if you put him up to a watch or timing system while he’s not trying to run someone down. From that alone, he will improve greatly in his movement on the field this season when under fire. That would be the case even if his actual tangible movement characteristics haven’t improved at all from last season to this.
Structurally, Harrison has very long legs for his height and this allows him to be a bit of a strider that once he gets moving, he is definitely coming, and will be there in a hurry ready to lay the lumber. He does seem to reach a bit with both his strides and his toes on his stepping foot immediately before it strikes the ground (i.e. it gets out of a loaded/dorsiflexed position) and this allows some energy escape up the kinetic chain as well once it does touch ground. In addition, he also has some trouble throwing on the brakes and lowering his center of mass quickly enough to completely be in control to change direction rapidly in confined spaces. Even in his change of direction from a backpedal or lateral shuffle there will be some lack of pure efficiency in the local kinematic structure (i.e. joint-by-joint). For example, his toes commonly will be pointed out early (and also maybe some late steps, as well) in linear acceleration patterns. In addition, his shin gets a bit vertical/neutral in any direction which results in him extending at the knee first to accelerate in most patterns rather than allowing his hips to help him to their fullest degree. This also results in his center of mass being a bit high, as well.
Of course, because of his structure, one can’t expect him to display the quick explosive burst in acceleration or deceleration patterns like you can with his current counterpart playing at Strong Safety, Jamarca Sanford. Jamarca is more heavily muscled through both his quads and his glutes which are then much more active during short/quick directional changes. Of course, Sanford is only like 5’10”ish in comparison to Smith being more in the 6’2”ish range. This leads me to a common problem that I find with many coaches/trainers in my field where they expect two guys to display similar movement technical tendencies/peculiarities and then they pigeon-hole them into a certain technical display of movement unfairly just because they have similar roles and responsibilities based on their position requirements. However, we wouldn’t expect Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt to display the same exact biomechanics so why would we want two safeties with different anthropometric features and strengths to?
All in all, I think everything is lined up for Harrison Smith to have a big season on the backend of that Vikings defense as he continues to mature as a football player and continues to build upon the great things he did last year.