EAGAN, Minn. -- Harrison Smith has played Aaron Rodgers 14 times since the Minnesota Vikings' safety entered the NFL in 2012. The five-time Pro Bowler has institutional knowledge of how the Green Bay Packers' quarterback weaves in and out of the pocket to make plays while improvising on the fly.
Much of what made Rodgers so difficult to defend early in Smith's career holds true today in spite of scheme changes and the quarterback's age. Smith has the benefit of knowing Rodgers, 36, on the field. But the Vikings' cornerbacks, who are the youngest in the NFL, do not.
Smith's advice? Prepare for something different than what you're expecting.
"The first thing I would mention is that the play might be longer than you're used to," Smith said. "Every play seems to last a little longer when you play Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Everybody has an internal clock to some degree of how long a play is and normally it lasts a little longer, so you might get a little more fatigued. You can't relax when you think a play's over."
Rodgers has always been a master scrambler no matter what offense he's in. But in his second year in Matt LaFleur's scheme, what's being asked of the future Hall of Fame quarterback might be different than what players like linebacker Eric Kendricks have grown accustomed to.
"I think the pieces around him have changed a lot and him utilizing those pieces is what changes from year to year," Kendricks said. "It's always interesting how they try to attack us and the little nuances they try to create to get our defense out of position. It's more about those little in-game adjustments that we need to figure out right away and see who their guys are.
"Maybe they have some new pieces that they've added or maybe they have taken the time to go over their film in the offseason and create little wrinkles. We know what we're going to get from him. He's going to throw the ball well out of the pocket and create plays."
The test facing Minnesota's young corners, including rookies Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler, serves to set them up for a slew of talented quarterbacks that follow Rodgers over the first five games of the season.
Without defensive end Danielle Hunter, who was placed on injured reserve this week, the Vikings' pass rush has a rigorous challenge in pressuring Rodgers. The goal is to speed up his rhythm and get the ball out of his hands before his receivers have a chance to break on their routes. If the Vikings' front seven can do that, there's a direct correlation for how well things could go on the back end of the defense.
It might not be a bad thing that the young corners will be asked to cover longer than normal.
"In a couple ways, I guess we hope we have that problem, in that we're covering him early so they're not wide open and he throws the ball out there," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "That's part of facing a quarterback that moves in and out of the pocket. He makes his hay in the red zone by moving out of the pocket and finding guys and buying time for his receivers, and the receivers do an unbelievable job of taking off and either heading back and changing direction, and then he's able to find them with the great vision that he has. I was watching some tape on him this morning, and some of the plays he makes take your breath away. It's kind of like watching Barry Sanders run the football."
The difference in the talent around Rodgers now might be the biggest change for him. That in itself might change the way the Vikings defend him.
"When I look at the Packers, they've got Aaron Jones, who I love, they've got Davante Adams, who I love, but outside of those two guys I sit back and I go, 'OK, who did you add, where are the guys, who's going to step up and win games us for us against good football teams besides those three guys?'" former NFL quarterback and NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner said. "If you force Aaron Rodgers to play on schedule, meaning you can get to him and you force him to have to throw it within the scheme, that means other guys are going to have to make plays within the scheme and on time. And I'm not sure they have the weapons to be able to do that outside of the guys that I mentioned.
"Especially in the passing game, you take away Davante Adams and you say somebody else show me. Show me that you can beat me, and then it becomes the next part. Or if it's to Aaron Rodgers, OK, show me you can beat me how you used to beat me by running around and making seven or eight or nine of those special plays as you're getting older."