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 EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -Dwight Smith might be the loudest low-profile safety in the NFL.
His name rarely comes up in discussions about the league's elite safeties, but Smith's boisterous nature in the locker room and big-play ability on the field has endeared him to the Minnesota Vikings.
``Anybody will tell you that I've always been comfortable with my ability on the field,'' said Smith, who was the NFC defensive player of the week after he intercepted Eli Manning twice and returned one for a touchdown in a surprising victory over the Giants. ``I think this being my sixth year in this system also makes it real easy to be confident and be able to tell guys what situations might occur.
``The coaches put a lot of trust in me and I try to take that as a real big responsibility.''
That's a big step forward for Smith, whose Vikings tenure got off to a rocky start when he was benched for the opening game against Washington last season after being cited for indecent conduct with a woman in a stairwell in downtown Minneapolis.
Since that episode, which made Smith the butt of jokes nationwide and even in his own locker room, it's been a fast rise for the talkative veteran.
``Dwight's just a pillar. A guy that's going to go out each and every game and play hard,'' safety Darren Sharper said. ``He's a vocal leader for us. Very knowledgeable of the game and of the system that we're running. He's a great player to play beside. Probably the most entertaining safety that I've been with after LeRoy Butler.''
That's high praise from Sharper, who went to two Super Bowls in Green Bay playing alongside the talented Butler.
``They're both similar as far as vocal and talking,'' Sharper said. ``I definitely enjoy playing beside him. And he's a playmaker too. You can see just off of (the Giants game) and what he's done in his career, he just makes plays.''
Smith grabbed two of the Vikings' four interceptions last week, including a tipped ball that he grabbed and returned 93 yards for a score in the fourth quarter to seal the 41-17 victory.
The performance was nothing new for Smith, who set a Super Bowl record in 2003 when he returned two interceptions for touchdowns to lead Tampa Bay over Oakland. Before that, he had 27 interceptions at Central High School in Detroit and 10 his senior year at Akron to lead the nation.
``I'm an offensive player, man,'' Smith said. ``A lot of us defensive guys might have played offense when we were younger so you always love when you get a chance to get your hands on the ball again. That's what I always try to thrive on.''
While Smith can still walk down the street in most NFL cities without being recognized, opposing coaches certainly keep an eye out for No. 24.
``He seemed to always produce in big games. He's tough,'' said Detroit coach Rod Marinelli, who was a defensive assistant when Smith was in Tampa. ``Just look back at the Super Bowl when we had him there, the big games he had. He just has a knack to making plays and I think he is a special, special player and special person.''
He also gives the team a swagger perhaps coming from a rough upbringing in Detroit. Smith loves to strut around the locker room wearing only a towel, his chest puffed out as he playfully chirps with his teammates.
Though it wouldn't seem like the two would mesh, the always reserved Vikings coach Brad Childress thinks highly of the way Smith handles the locker room.
``He has got quite a personality and he lets his personality show, and I appreciate that,'' Childress said. ``Where there is a bunch of 'Silent Sams' sometimes in that locker room, he is not one of those guys.''
Vikings both young and old seem to gravitate to Smith, who was selected to the team's player counsel that meets with Childress during the week.
``He's a leader for this team. He's a guy who makes sure that everyone in the locker room knows that he's talking,'' Sharper said. ``He's going to give shots to everybody and keep the locker room loose, even before the game.
``When you have guys that can do that, they're the ones you follow behind because they're going to get you ready and have you in the right mind-set before the game.''

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