By Dane Mizutani / St. Paul Pioneer Press
EAGAN, Minn. —Vikings rookie linebacker Cam Smith claims to be a quick learner. He’d better be.
After being selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft on April 27, the 22-year-old was asked to learn a new position on the fly during last weekend’s rookie camp — strongside linebacker.
“I can contribute to this team if I’m asked to play at the position,” Smith said. “Even though I’ve never technically played that position before, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help the team.”
A prototypical inside linebacker throughout his rise through the ranks, Smith hasn’t lined up as an outside linebacker on a consistent basis since his days playing Pop Warner. In four years at USC, he racked up 354 total tackles and serving as one of the leaders of the defense while playing inside.
Smith doesn’t seem too worried about making the switch.
“I can pick up on things quick,” he said. “Whatever it takes for me to do something, I will do it. I’ve watched a ton of the (Vikings) defense here over the last two years because it’s very similar to what we ran at at USC. Just watching the linebackers play, they run like a well oiled machine, and I think I play whatever position they need me to based on what I’ve seen.”
Perhaps the best news for Smith is that the newly re-signed Anthony Barr will be holding down the strongside spot for a majority of the snaps. Because Eric Kendricks mans the middle, and Ben Gedeon is the usual weakside linebacker, Smith likely won’t immediately be thrust into high-pressure situations.
But general manager Rick Spielman made it clear during the NFL Draft that he sees a place for Smith on the defense. Eventually.
“You can cross-train him with his intelligence, his passion for the game, and his character off the field,” Spielman said. “You can’t go wrong with him because he is a very good football player, and when we can get smart, passionate, high-character guys that are good football players, we usually have a pretty good chance on hitting on them.”
That appears to be Smith in a nutshell, at least on the surface.
“It’s what was meant to be,” Smith said. “I’m just ultra-excited to be here and learn from a guy like Coach (Mike) Zimmer and the rest of the coaching staff. I’m kind of on a cloud right now.”
As for how Smith plans to work alongside a couple of UCLA guys like Barr and Kendricks?
“We are Vikings now,” he said with a laugh. “I can’t wait to come in and shake their hand and get to work.”