The Vikings take the field for their third and most important game of the 2014 preseason Saturday night against the Kansas City Chiefs. There are a lot of players with a lot to prove before the regular season kicks off in St. Louis in two weeks. For instance, Robert Blanton needs to show that he's all the way back from his injury to compete for the starting strong safety job. Josh Robinson and his hamstring need to get out of Mike Zimmer's doghouse and into an important role at cornerback. Backups like Shamar Stephen, Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, and Brandon Watts need to prove that they are worthy of one of the coveted 53 positions on the final roster, whether it's in a defensive or special teams capacity.
The offensive side of the ball is full of position battles as well. Will Zach Line earn a spot on the team? Will undrafted free agent Antonio Richardson find a place on the offensive line? And in one of the most intriguing situations among the Vikings preseason position battles, who will round out the depth chart at wide receiver?
Rodney Smith is considered to be fighting for one of those final roster spots. The second-year wide receiver out of Florida State is looking to make his mark in Kansas City to solidify his place on the squad. I was able to have a conversation with Rodney on Friday evening after the team arrived in KC. We discussed his football beginnings, how he's trying to make an impression this preseason, and some of the highlights of his experience in Mankato this year. Our conversation is below.
Daily Norseman: So you guys are in Kansas City now, correct?
Rodney Smith: Yes sir, we just got here.
DN: So what's your schedule like on Friday and tomorrow, do you have team meetings and a walkthrough tomorrow?
RS: We have meetings and stuff leading up to the game but no more walkthroughs. Just meetings.
DN: How are you feeling health-wise now that we're in the latter half of the preseason? Feeling pretty good overall?
RS: I'm feeling real good. I'm feeling great. I'm ready to play football. Trying to stay hydrated, this heat's starting to pick up a little bit. But other than that I'm good.
DN: Yeah it's supposed to be warm down in KC. It's getting close to 100 degrees isn't it?
RS: Yeah that's what the coaches told us. It's definitely hot down here.
DN: So most Vikings fans know you as number 83, the young 6'5" wide receiver that catches game-winning touchdowns from Teddy Bridgewater. We'll get to that in a bit but first let's talk about how your football career got started. You grew up in Dade County in the Miami area, which is a football hotbed. Did you play with or against a lot of big names in high school?
RS: Yeah I played against Lamar Miller, and there's a lot of guys you could go down the line and pick out. We have so many athletes down there, I could be listing names for days.
DN: You obviously ended up going to Florida State after high school. Do you still keep in touch with your college quarterback E.J. Manuel?
RS: We're real close. We probably talk once a week. We're so busy right now but you know we text each other every now and then to see how each other are doing.
DN: Buffalo is on the schedule this year. Are you excited for the opportunity that you could have a chance to play against him?
RS: Oh yes definitely. It's always fun playing against old teammates. You always check in on your guys you used to play with.
DN: It sounds like Florida State has a close-knit group. I know Christian Ponder and Xavier Rhodes are fellow FSU alums. Which group of guys on the team talks the most about their alma mater? I know there's a huge contingent of Notre Dame guys and a handful of USC guys too. Are you guys the most talkative just because you're the defending champs?
RS: Yeah there is a big group of Notre Dame guys and a big group of USC guys, so I'd say that the most talk comes from Florida State, then Notre Dame and USC.
DN: Do you think your Seminoles have a good chance at repeating this year?
RS: Oh yeah we have a great chance. We got Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, Karlos Williams, a great number of guys. We got a good group this year.
DN: After your Florida State days came the 2013 NFL Draft. A lot of draft experts had you in those middle to late rounds. So how hard was it to not have your name called over the course of those three days, and what did you do during the draft?
RS: I watched it at home with my family. But it was tough. To not get my name called when I was expecting to get my name called, but it didn't happen. But everything happens for a reason. I trust in God that He was going to put me in the right situation.
DN: And so you did get the call from the Vikings after the draft. Was it immediately after the draft that you got the call?
RS: They asked me right after the draft. I had a number of teams actually call me around about the sixth round. One team called me in the fifth round and that's when I thought I was going to get drafted. But then the Vikings, they called me, and it really seemed like they wanted me there so it was the best opportunity possible for me.
DN: Last year it seemed to be a close call but you did make the practice squad [as well as the active roster for four games, which Smith reminded me of right away]. What are you doing this year to ensure that you make the final 53 man roster?
RS: I have to continue to show everyone that I can make plays and show that I can help the team. And hopefully that will be enough.
DN: One big step you made this year in the preseason along with making some waves at Training Camp was that final drive in the Arizona game. You caught the game-winning touchdown from Teddy Bridgewater. Walk us through that final play. Sure it's "only" the preseason but how fun was it to catch that touchdown in front of the home crowd?
RS: It was great. It was just a simple go route. Me and Teddy had connected on that play a couple times in practice. He just put his faith in me and gave me an opportunity to make the play to win the game.
DN: It seems like you're pretty comfortable with Teddy. Do you think you've probably had the most reps with him in camp?
RS: I wouldn't say I get the most with him because you know we get thrown to by all the quarterbacks and we catch balls from all of them. It's not just one quarterback that you go with in practice.
DN: So do you think it's important to build a good rapport with all three quarterbacks? Is it pretty much focusing on what you need to do? Or is it a good mix of both?
RS: Well yeah I try to focus on what I need to do. The coaches handle the quarterback situation so I just try to pay attention to everything I need to do when it's all final.
DN: Saturday night is the big third preseason game in Kansas City. The starters usually do play the longest during this game. Have the coaches told you roughly when and how much you're going to play on Saturday?
RS: They don't really tell us how much we're going to play. You just got to be ready to do what you've gotta do and when your number's called you gotta step up to the plate.
DN: Do you have any specific personal goals that you have set for the game or are you just planning on going out there and doing what's asked of you when you're called upon?
RS: That's always my goal. Just to do my best.
DN: A lot of people kind of have you competing for a roster spot with fellow second-year wide receiver Adam Thielen, who also spent some time on the practice squad last year. What's your relationship with him like? And do you think the competition helps both of you strive to be better?
RS: Adam, he's a great guy. We talk every day. We're pretty cool with each other. There's always going to be competition no matter where you go. Honestly I don't even think about the competition with Adam or anything like that. You never know what's going to happen so if I think about what's going to happen with other guys I'm just wasting space in my mind. I just want to concentrate on the playbook and making plays and trying to do my best. I'm looking for an opportunity to make this team both on offense and on special teams.
DN: You have been playing on most if not all of the units on the special teams side, correct?
RS: Kickoff, punt, punt return, kick return, pretty much every special teams unit. The hands team, everything.
DN: I did talk to you briefly at Training Camp about Norv Turner's offense. At that point you were kind of just working on installing everything and getting to know the playbook. How much of a handle on the offense do you feel you have at this point of the season?
RS: I feel like my knowledge now is allowing me to play a lot faster and with a lot more confidence. I understand everything that's going on in the offense.
DN: What do you think the main difference is between Turner's offense this year and Bill Musgrave's offense last year?
RS: There's a bigger variety of plays. There are a lot of different ways to get a lot of different people the ball. That's probably the biggest difference.
[Editor's note: I'm sure this answer surprises exactly zero Vikings fans!]
DN: Before we wrap up here we'll just finish up with a few lighter questions about camp. What were your favorite and least favorite parts about being in Mankato for Training Camp?
RS: My favorite part about it is that you're just out there for one thing and you just think about football. You can just concentrate on doing what you have to do. The toughest part about it? I would say is having to ride around everywhere. There are different rooms for meetings and you have to go all around for everything. We're so used to having everything in one spot, where you don't have to get on a bike and ride a few minutes away just to get to the building where your meeting is at.
DN: Who do you think are the fastest and strongest players are on the Vikings right now?
RS: The fastest? I don't know. We gotta have a whole bunch of guys. We need some type of race or something to determine that. But one of the strongest guys I've seen here is probably B-Rob [Brian Robison]. He's probably one of the strongest here, just watching him in the weight room.
RS: Class clown...well that's tough too because we got quite a few guys that fit in that category too. There a few guys that are pretty funny around the players and the coaching staff that are always good for a laugh.
DN: Every team seems to have a guy that sings all the time but is just a terrible singer. Do the Vikings have one of those?
RS: Cordarrelle. Easy. He's always going around with his music loud singing and stuff, whether it's slow music, church music, it doesn't matter. But his sound is way off.
DN: That sounds entertaining and awful all at the same time. That's about all we have for you today Rodney. Best of luck to you on Saturday and going forward in the season.
RS: Alright, thank you.
Thanks again to Rodney Smith for taking the time out of an obviously busy schedule before what might be one of the most important games of his young career.