The addition of a former rival already seems to be an ideal fit for the new-look Vikings.
Following a transformative offseason that saw the hiring of a new head coach and new general manager, the Vikings go into 2022 looking to break out of the mediocrity that's plagued Minnesota in recent years. In signing Za'Darius Smith, the club is hoping the former Packers pass rusher can elevate a talented defense that finished second in the NFL with 51 sacks in 2021.
By lining up with Danielle Hunter in the Vikings defense, Smith told reporters Tuesday that he believes there's great potential for them to become the best pass-rushing duo in the NFL.
"I say one of the best in the NFL but, you know, it's too early," Smith said, via the team's website. "We're just going to keep working and get better at our craft and you'll see the results here in the season."
The pair's recent injury history warrants any hesitancy. After becoming the youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 career sacks during the 2019 season, Hunter's remarkable trajectory was halted after multiple injuries limited the 27-year-old to just seven games the past two seasons combined. On the other hand, Smith, 29, was limited to just one game last season thanks to a back injury.
Smith and Hunter have been given a clean bill of health entering the Vikings' offseason program, and for that reason alone the duo offers great anticipation. However, that potential isn't the only thing Smith provides for the Vikings.
With new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell bringing his 3-4 scheme to Minnesota, most veteran Vikings will need to learn a new system. Smith can provide his experience within the 3-4 scheme on the sidelines and on the playing field.
"I'm familiar with everything," Smith said. "The 3-4 defense and just being able to drop in coverage and move around under front."
Smith's presence is already being noticed by Vikings veterans. Even those not playing on defense.
"He's crazy,'' running back Dalvin Cook said. "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 Danielle is just a scary look.''
Signs of the new era in Minnesota are already beginning to show in the early stages of head coach Kevin O'Connell's rookie campaign. Befittingly enough, for Smith especially, the fresh start will commence with the Vikings hosting the Packers in Week 1.
"I'm just happy, excited,'' Smith said. "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.''