INDIANAPOLIS – Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith figures he's ready for NFL tight ends because he's been dealing with prototypes in practice for years.
Smith, projected as a second-round pick by NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, was one of the few safeties garnering much attention at the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“That's something that I can bring to a team is my ability to cover tight ends man-to-man,” Smith said. “It's something I did throughout my career.
“In practice, I got to go against Kyle Rudolph, who was a high pick last year, and this past year I went against Tyler Eifert, who'll be picked next year.”
Smith has the type of size (6-foot-2, 213 pounds) to deal with most tight ends. But as the tight end spot has evolved, they are getting bigger and stronger, putting more pressure on safeties to cover and tackle.
While he believes he can handle it, Smith acknowledges that the assignment can be a daunting one. Rudolph, now with the Minnesota Vikings, is a perfect example. He's 6-6, 258 pounds. Arm tackles won't get the job done.
“There's a difference dealing with a guy that size,” Smith said. “He's tall, he can run, he's agile, he has big hands and he can catch everything. At times in practice, I'd have Kyle covered and he'd still make the catch. He's so big you just can't get around him. So it's really about body position.”
Smith, like many of the Notre Dame players, feels he benefited from the chance to deal with two coaching staffs during his time with the Fighting Irish. He experienced Charlie Weis and his staff, which was very NFL-oriented, and Brian Kelly and his staff, which is more traditionally college in approach.
Weis' practices were longer and less intense, Smith said. Kelly's practices were “rapid fire,” but he said he wouldn't necessarily choose one as more effective than the other.
Smith said he believes he has put himself in good position for the NFL.
“I think I'm a versatile player,” Smith said. “I'm able to get defenses lined up and recognize formations and make checks and communicate with the defense.”
Smith, who was second on the team in tackles last season, went old-school when asked which safety he would most like to emulate in the NFL, choosing former Denver Broncos great Steve Atwater.
The Baltimore Ravens talked with him, as have the New England Patriots, he said, but he wasn't sure how many teams might have interest.
He plans to approach the NFL with open eyes and a willingness to soak in coaching.
“I'm not a guy who's going to bark out orders and do stuff like that, especially as a rookie,” he said. “I'm confident in my ability to learn the play book and understand offenses.”
One thing Smith will avoid is listening to people pick apart his game.
“At the end of the day, you can't change what people think,” he said. “I can only do what I can do. …I just want to show that I can run, move around, go get the ball. Be an athlete. Be a player.”