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Updated: August 25th, 2012 12:59am
Notebook: Harrison Smith costs Vikings, himself with late penalty

Notebook: Harrison Smith costs Vikings, himself with late penalty

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- If the Minnesota Vikings hadn't lost three safeties to injury on Friday night, rookie Harrison Smith wouldn't have been on the field in the fourth quarter.

But there Smith was on the San Diego Chargers' winning drive, which he kept alive with an unnecessary roughness penalty that also will likely cost him a chunk of his first paycheck.

"Yeah, he'll learn from that one," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said after the Chargers rallied for a 12-10 victory. "That was preseason, so he'll learn."

With San Diego facing third-and-10 from its 20-yard line and 1 minute, 40 seconds to play, backup quarterback Jarrett Lee tried to hit receiver Mike Willie on a deep in-cut.

The ball sailed past, but Smith kept coming, leaving his feet to stick one of his shoulders into Willie's facemask.

"At the end of the day, football is football," Smith said. "I mean, there's stuff that sometimes you can't control, and I think maybe I was going to go for the ball, then I realized that I should just go for the hit. So, I was kind of caught in the middle there.

"I wished I didn't get the penalty. Maybe I could have played it differently. I'll watch the film."

Smith said he thought he hit Willie with his shoulder, but launching into Willie's head and neck area would have yielded the result regardless of whether Smith led with his head.

Instead of fourth-and-10, the Chargers had first down at the 35-yard line. Lee's next two passes were complete for 20 yards to Taylor Embree and 17 yards to Willie, putting San Diego in position for Nick Novak's 45-yard field goal as time expired.

A first-round pick (29th overall) out of Notre Dame, Smith moved into the starting lineup for the second preseason game and is a virtual lock to start the opener. Those sorts of mistakes will be extra costly in the regular season, even if the fine he likely faces would remain the same.

"It's easier to watch it on TV and say, 'You should hit him here and there,'" Smith said, "but when you're out there, it happens fast."

Another step for Brinkley

This was the Jasper Brinkley the Vikings have been waiting to see.

The middle linebacker had four solo tackles, two sacks and three quarterback hits in easily his best and most productive performance of the preseason.

"Jasper seemed like he played a lot better," Frazier said. "He was more aggressive. He seemed like he was just out there having fun, kind of letting go a little bit. His play was encouraging just watching from the sideline.

"He made a lot of plays (Friday), so that should help his confidence. It was inspiring to see him play as aggressive as he did."

Brinkley missed all of last season following hip surgery, then sat out much of the offseason with a groin strain. The hope was he'd get back up to speed in the preseason, and Friday appeared to be the most significant step yet in the right direction.

"I still want to continue to keep getting better," Brinkley said, "and that's the goal -- get better each and every week, be ready to hit the ground running Week 1."

Not top of the line

The Vikings' starting defense allowed only 87 net yards and six first downs on 40 plays, but it didn't exactly take the Chargers' best shot.

Six offensive starters, including quarterback Philip Rivers, were deactivated.

"I think we did what we were supposed to do (Friday)," right end Jared Allen said. "If you're going against the backups, you should dominate. We held them from touchdowns."

Allen had two sacks against backup left tackle Mike Harris -- one of them a touch job after Rivers' replacement, Charlie Whitehurst, fell down on a deep drop.

The Chargers' nine drives against the Vikings' first unit yielded six punts, two field goals and a kneeldown to end the half.

They added two more field goals against backups in the fourth quarter, but that was enough to win in a game starved for offense.

"Our first defense, they played extremely hard, kept us in the game, real good on third downs," Frazier said. "They didn't come up with the turnovers that we would have liked, but I thought our first unit did everything that we asked."

No Simpson

Jerome Simpson wasn't wearing shoulder pads at kickoff, leaving Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu to take most of the snaps at split end.

Jenkins caught one pass for 13 yards, while Aromashodu broke his catch-less drought by hauling in all three balls thrown his way for 28 yards.

The plan this week was to spread Simpson's snaps to others as the Vikings look for options during his three-game suspension to start the season.

"We saw some good things from Devin," Frazier said. "We think we know what Michael Jenkins is going to give us. We would like to learn a little more about Jarius (Wright) and we will next week. We're still trying to determine which guy is going to step up and be that replacement."

Another receiver who has gotten an extended look in the preseason, Stephen Burton, didn't get much time with the first string and wasn't targeted.

"Stephen didn't do anything to separate himself from some of the other receivers from my observation on the sideline," Frazier said. "When I look at the tape, we'll see how he did blocking and he did running around, but as a whole, we never gathered any rhythm offensively, so that also means he wasn't a big factor in what we were trying to do offensively."

Return games

Wright, the rookie fourth-round draft pick from Arkansas, played sparingly on offense but did handle several punt returns, returning one for 24 yards and another for 5.

On another punt, Wright called for a fair catch and got steamrolled without the ball by Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram, who was flagged for a 15-yard penalty.

Most important, Wright didn't have any issue catching the ball -- something he's struggled with in camp.

"We really wanted to take a good look at him at that position and see what kind of a returner he can be," Frazier said. "He's been working hard as a returner and I think (Monday) he answered the bell and we'll definitely get him more reps next week at wide receiver."

Marcus Sherels once again got the first chance in both phases, returning three kickoffs for a 25.3-yard average and two punts for 5 yards total before spraining an ankle. A long kick return was wiped out by a holding penalty on Zackary Bowman.

Bryan Walters returned one punt for 8 yards.

Officiating errors

Wayne Elliott's crew had a rough night as the NFL's labor standoff with its regular officials continues.

Most notable, the Chargers had to use two challenges to overturn missed calls on obvious Vikings turnovers -- a fumble by Lex Hilliard and an interception by DeAndre Presley.

Officials also spotted the ball incorrectly several times before correcting themselves and misidentified multiple players on penalties.

Frazier talked around a question about the officiating after the game. Punter Chris Kluwe was more blunt on his Twitter account.

"The NFL really needs to kiss and make up with the refs," Kluwe wrote. "These replacements are horrible. Frankly, it's kind of embarrassing. I'm sure they're trying hard, but they're just not good. So many blown calls tonight in both directions."

Quick hits

• Frazier said he'll meet with GM Rick Spielman and their staffs on Saturday to discuss Monday's 75-man roster reduction.

• CB Chris Cook (concussion) should be cleared to practice on Monday, Frazier said. It's not clear whether TE John Carlson (knee) will be ready then.

• As expected, Jamarca Sanford started at safety alongside Smith and Chris Carr started at right cornerback in place of Cook. Rookie Josh Robinson was the third cornerback and took over at left corner for Antoine Winfield on the fourth series before leaving with his own concussion.

• The Vikings' captains for the coin toss were MLB Jasper Brinkley, S Jamarca Sanford and HB Toby Gerhart.

• HB Adrian Peterson drew some cheers as he went through the pregame jogthrough in pads. He is still rehabilitating from left knee reconstruction and isn't expected to play in the preseason.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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