Rookie safety Harrison Smith will start for Vikings on Friday night
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Harrison Smith's shot at starting begins on Friday night.
The rookie safety took the bulk of first-team reps alongside Mistral Raymond in the Minnesota Vikings' practice on Monday, and coach Leslie Frazier confirmed afterward that Smith will be in the lineup for the second preseason game against Buffalo.
"We want to see how he does," Frazier said. "It's not a permanent deal. We still have to make a decision -- can he handle that? And this will be a good test for him, because Buffalo -- I don't know how much they'll play their starters, but they've got a pretty good passing offense and they run the ball well also."
The Vikings traded back into the first round of April's NFL Draft to take Smith at No. 29 overall out of Notre Dame, addressing a position that was a major weakness last season. But Raymond and Jamarca Sanford, who finished last season as the starters, have taken the lion's share of reps in training camp.
On Monday, Smith opened several team (11-on-11) periods in Sanford's place and made multiple plays on note, including a leaping interception in a one-on-one drill against tight end Mickey Shuler and a touch-sack that stopped a drive by the No. 1 offense.
"He's doing some good things," Frazier said. "Anxious to see how he does on Friday night in a starting role, but he's really coming along. Looking forward to seeing how he performs when he has to start the game."
Smith began making his move last week, when he rotated in with the starters on occasion and twice barked facemask-to-facemask with top receiver Percy Harvin after plays until teammates intervened.
The rookie also held up well in Friday's exhibition opener at San Francisco, most notably stopping an end-around to Keiland Williams that lost a yard.
"Played well," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "The game was not too big for him. He looked like he belonged out there."
Meanwhile, the two players ahead of Smith on the depth chart each had a play to forget in the running game on a night the Vikings hemorrhaged 265 yards on 39 non-kneeldown carries.
Raymond took a poor angle that allowed Brandon Jacobs to bounce a carry outside for a 23-yard gain on the opening drive. Then, Sanford lost vision and ran the wrong direction on Colin Kaepernick's 78-yard touchdown run.
"As safeties, what you have to do is -- you're the last line of defense," Alan Williams said. "You have to make sure that you see the big picture and you come down and you cap it off. We want those plays, if they get out, to be 12 to 15 yards and of course not (78)."
Those fundamental breakdowns made it an easy decision for coaches to try something else, although the move probably was inevitable with a first-round pick who has impressed since rookie camp. Smith also took some reps off Raymond in practice last week, but the rotation on Monday suggests they'll start together against the Bills.
Depending on how that goes, it wouldn't be a total surprise if the Vikings also give Sanford -- who became a full-time starter for the first time last season -- a chance to start alongside Smith at some point before the preseason's over.
"It's football," Sanford said. "I've been in competition all my life. Your competition is within yourself, so only go out there and take care of yourself and do what you've got to do to put yourself in the best position, so you really don't worry about everybody else around you. You just worry about yourself and doing what you need to do to make this team.
"I approach every year as making the 53-man roster. I don't even worry about safety. Every time I'm on the field, I just try to put myself in the best position to help the team. Everybody's always saying it's a competition back there, but it's a competition to make this team. It's just how I approach it."