ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Za’Darius Smith fired up about Vikings opening season against former team Green Bay

The outside linebacker spent the last three seasons with the Packers before they released him in March in a salary-related move

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith celebrates after sacking San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (not pictured) in the first quarter during a NFC Divisional playoff football game Jan. 22, 2022, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
Jeff Hanisch / USA Today Sports
We are part of The Trust Project.

EAGAN, Minnesota — When the Minnesota Vikings announced last week that they will open the season against Green Bay, Za’Darius Smith tweeted an emoji of a pair of eyes.

The outside linebacker spent the last three seasons with the Packers before they released him in March in a salary-related move. So you better believe Smith, who signed with Minnesota shortly thereafter, is looking forward to the Sept. 11 opener at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“I’m just happy, excited,’’ Smith said after Tuesday’s second day of organized team activities at the TCO Performance Center. “You know, things didn’t work out there, but it’s still good. I get to face them twice a year, man, and I just can’t wait. Get a chance to see a lot of my old teammates. But, man it’s going to be a big one.’’

As the game gets closer, Smith said he’ll brief the Vikings on what he knows about the Packers.

MORE MINNESOTA VIKINGS COVERAGE:
Pro
Veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins is entering his 11th NFL season and fifth with the Vikings. He believes that team bonding could play a role in the win-loss record this fall
Pro
After being taken with the No. 23 pick in the 2021 draft out of Virginia Tech, the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Darrisaw showed he has the talent to develop into a Pro Bowl-type player.
Pro
If both players can stay healthy, Minnesota should have a couple of the best pass rushers in the league.
Pro
Last month, the Vikings elected not to pick up the $13.202 million option on Bradbury for the 2023 season, putting him in line to be a free agent in March
Pro
After the Vikings hired coach Kevin O’Connell this offseason, McCardell was among the only position coaches retained.
Pro
With starter Dalvin Cook, backup Alexander Mattison, third-stringer Kene Nwangwu and fullback C.J. Ham, it remains to be seen what new coach Kevin O’Connell might do to spread the wealth
Pro
Though the 24-year-old has the ability to beat people deep, Osborn acknowledged that his big plays are likely going to come via yards after catch
Pro
Sloter, a former Vikings quarterback, is now leading the Breakers in the USFL, the spring league that was reformed this year after a 37-year hiatus
Pro
He started all 16 games at right guard for Minnesota in 2015 before he was diagnosed in 2016 with a congenital brain condition, which ended his career
Pro
The Vikings on Wednesday announced the signing of Wilson, who agreed to terms on Tuesday, and they waived running back A.J. Rose Jr. to create room on the roster.

For now, Smith likes how he fits in with new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell’s 3-4 scheme. He played in a 3-4 with Green Bay, including two seasons when Vikings assistant head coach Mike Pettine was the Packers’ defensive coordinator and three when Minnesota outside linebackers coach/pass rush specialist Mike Smith was previously his position coach.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I’m familiar with everything, the 3-4 defense, and just being able to drop in coverage and move around under front,’’ Smith said.

Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is happy to now have Smith on his side.

“He’s crazy,’’ Cook said with a laugh. “Practices are literally fun. He’s going to be one of those players that gets our whole team better, just bringing that energy. Having Z over there on the other side of (edge rusher) Danielle (Hunter) is just a scary look.’’

Deep backfield

Cook is excited about the depth Minnesota has in the backfield.

The Vikings selected North Carolina running back Ty Chandler in the fifth round of last month’s draft. He will provide additional depth behind Cook alongside Alexander Mattison, the team’s primary backup the past three years, and Kene Nwangwu.

“We’re in the NFL, things happen, guys go down,’’ Cook said.

Cook missed four games last season, and Mattison rushed for 90 or more yards in three of them. And Cook is expecting bigger things from Nwangwu, entering his second season.

“He doesn’t have a ceiling,’’ Cook said. “He’s got it all. We see it on special teams. … The thing I haven’t seen is him run the ball more consistently and get the ball more. I think that’s going to happen coming up … He’s special with the ball in his hands, and I want to see him make more plays.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Fun with O'Connell

Cook played his first five seasons under head coach Mike Zimmer, who was fired in January and replaced by Kevin O’Connell.

“Being around (O’Connell) and our whole staffing, being around (running backs coach Curtis) Modkins, it’s just fun being around this group and going through the process with the guys we got here,” Cook said. “I can feel the vibes. it’s just fun.”

So how does Cook compare playing for O’Connell to being under Zimmer?

“I’m not going to get into comparing last year and this year,” he said. “This year is a clean start for us, and we just want to look forward to what we have ahead and that’s us chasing a world championship.”

Briefly

–Smith said he’s excited to play alongside Vikings defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, whom he has been watching since the latter entered the NFL in 2017. “Watching him grow, man, he’s been one of the best interior guys in this league,” Smith said.

–Cook, who wore No. 33 his first five seasons before switching to No. 4, said it’s strange to see rookie linebacker Brian Asamoah with his old number. “It was kind of weird when I saw him in (last weekend’s) rookie minicamp,’’ Cook said. “I kind of had to double take, like ‘Hold up, wait.”’

–In the battle for the starting right guard spot, veterans Jesse Davis and Chris Reed shared first-team snaps Tuesday.

–The Vikings conclude their first week of OTAs on Thursday. Their second week features practices next Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

ADVERTISEMENT

______________________________________________________

This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

What to read next
Pro
It was the second time in the past eight days that the Guardians scored four runs in the last inning to shock the first-place Twins
Pro
Coming into Wednesday, the veteran has turned in five consecutive scoreless outings spanning 7 1/3 innings
Pro
The home crowd saw the loss of two of its most popular players on Day 3 of the Wimbledon Championships
Pro
The 25-year-old Fiala is fresh off the best season of his career in which he scored 33 goals, 52 assists, and 85 points.