Vikings LB Cameron Smith might not be a household name, but his return to the practice field is still noteworthy. The 24-year-old, who missed the entire 2020 campaign due to open-heart surgery, has been medically cleared to play, as Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets.
Smith has had a tumultuous start to his pro career. Despite less than impressive measurables, his instincts and collegiate production as a four-year player at USC got the Vikings’ attention, and Minnesota selected him in the fifth round of the 2019 draft. He did not survive final cutdowns at the end of his first training camp, though he was quickly signed to the Vikes’ practice squad after he cleared waivers. He was promoted a few weeks later, saw action in a couple of games, and was waived again, only to end up back on the Vikings’ taxi squad before getting another promotion.
In all, he played five games in 2019, compiling eight tackles. Last August, during a COVID test, doctors discovered his heart condition. “COVID saved my life,” Smith said (Twitter link via Tomasson). The Vikings put him on waivers in a procedural move when they realized he would need heart surgery, and he subsequently reverted to season-ending IR (the club paid him his full $675K salary).
Now, Smith has rejoined his teammates, though he will still have an uphill battle to see significant burn on the defensive side of the ball. The Vikings are returning Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, and Minnesota also nabbed North Carolina LB Chazz Surratt in the third round of this year’s draft. Surratt is likely the favorite to land the weakside ‘backer job alongside Barr and Kendricks, but Smith will try to push him for playing time. If nothing else, he could carve out a role on special teams.
Speaking of Barr, the four-time Pro Bowler was also back on the practice field this week, as Tomasson tweets. Barr missed all but two games of the 2020 season due to a torn pec, and he reworked his contract this offseason. He will now be eligible for free agency next March.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.