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Vikings rookie Harrison Smith proving to be a quick study

Aside from ref-shoving incident HarrisSmith has given Vikings lot like.  | Hannah Foslien~Getty Images

Aside from a ref-shoving incident, Harrison Smith has given the Vikings a lot to like.  | Hannah Foslien~Getty Images

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Updated: November 22, 2012 6:28AM

During some down time last week, Harrison Smith had a panicky moment.

‘‘All of a sudden, I was like, ‘I’ve got to do my homework,’ ” the Minnesota Vikings rookie safety recalled. ‘‘Then, five seconds later, I was like, ‘I don’t have to do that anymore.’ But it kind of gets ingrained in you.’’

The Vikings drafted the former Notre Dame safety late in the first round, and he was plugged in as an immediate starter. While he’s had his share of rookie mistakes — most notably getting ejected after shoving an official in a rout of the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 7 — he has played solid at a position the Vikings have struggled to address in recent years.

‘‘He’s done a heck of a job,’’ Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “Quick transition. Smart guy. Great ball skills. Plays with a little edge to him, too, which isn’t all bad at the safety position.

‘‘Went a little too — much too far — [against the Titans]. But he’s been really good for us.’’

Smith doesn’t have any sacks or picks, but he has 27 tackles, and he has provided some meaningful eye-opening tackles, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to Fighting Irish fans.

But Smith hardly thinks he has arrived.

‘‘I obviously feel I’m still in the transition and trying to learn more every week,’’ he said. ‘‘But I think so far, what’s helped me is really coming from a program where I had to do a lot of things on and off the field. It just taught me to study plays with the time that I’m given. Now I have all this extra time, so now I can focus on football and it’s allowed me focus on the details.’’

Smith earned his degree in business management, with a focus on entrepreneurship. So instead of doing homework or studying for a test, he pours himself into mastering the Vikings’ playbook and learning from veterans such as cornerback Antoine Winfield, who shows him the finer points in film study and sets a tone on game days.

‘‘You won’t see anyone play any harder,’’ Smith said of Winfield. ‘‘You don’t want to let guys like him down.’’

The Vikings have struggled to get consistently solid play at safety since Darren Sharper left after the 2008 season. They signed Madieau Williams to a six-year, $33 million contract, but he certainly didn’t pan out and was released after just three seasons.

Smith wasn’t aware of that before the Vikings drafted him.

‘‘When I was at Notre Dame, I didn’t watch a lot of [pro] football,’’ he said. ‘‘But they drafted me for a reason. They drafted me to play.’’


Stepping up

Give the Bears a lot of credit for helping the family of Chris Pettry, the fan who was murdered the night before the Jacksonville game two weeks ago. The organization is planning to do something for Pettry’s widow, Karen, and players such as Kellen Davis and Brandon Marshall have pledged their support.

Now comes tight end Matt Spaeth. He’s hosting a Halloween-themed event Oct. 29 at Realm of Terror in Round Lake Beach. A chunk of the proceeds from ticket sales will go to the Pettry family.

Spaeth said his last team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, hosted a haunted house event and they had a blast.

‘‘It is so far from what we normally do, and it really allows guys to enjoy it and let loose,’’ said Spaeth, who said he and his teammates will be in costumes.

But the greater goal, of course, is to help the Pettry family.

‘‘The whole thing was so unnecessary and tragic,’’ Spaeth said.

Spaeth warned parents to be mindful of bringing children. When he visited Realm of Terror, they told him it wasn’t quite set up.

‘‘They lied to us. They said no one was in it, but people were jumping out everywhere,’’ he said. ‘‘It was pretty scary.’’

Praise for Jennings

Detroit Lions receiver Nate Burleson isn’t surprised by the strong play of Bears cornerback Tim Jenningsthis season.

‘‘He’s just playing more confident,’’ Burleson said last week. ‘‘He knows how to play the ball.’’

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