Hopes were high for Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. ahead of his second NFL season.
Then they all crashed down before his second year started when he tore his meniscus during the 2021 preseason.
With Kevin O'Connell taking over the Vikings' head coaching reins, there is optimism aplenty in the Twin Cities, particularly for the offense, and Smith's healthy return is even more reason for anticipation.
"I'm very confident once I get back on the field I'm going to be 100 percent, and we're going to keep building on that," Smith said Tuesday, via the team website's Eric Smith.
When he was selected in the 2019 NFL Draft's second round, Smith garnered plenty of buzz as the second-generation NFL talent seemed poise to open up the Vikes' passing game. Two years later, Smith was building on an impressive preseason and the opportunity to be the Vikings' top option at tight end after Kyle Rudolph had moved on.
He insists that his outlook won't change and his momentum will pick up where his 2021 season was lost.
"I still have that same [mindset]; in my mind, I've worked so hard throughout my life, so it's not like this is something that we built up last camp," Smith said. "I had a great camp and was looking forward to the season, but that momentum and everything hasn't slowed down."
Smith collected 66 catches for 676 yards and seven touchdowns in his first two seasons sharing time with Rudolph. Now he returns to an offense under the umbrella of O'Connell and offensive coordinator Wes Phillips that features quarterback Kirk Cousins, running back Dalvin Cook and wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Minnesota is hardly lacking offensive firepower, but the return of a healthy Smith could offer another option and, in the least, is needed to replace the departed Tyler Conklin, who signed with the Jets after tallying 61 catches and 593 yards a season ago.
It was a "freak" play that sidelined Smith for the entire season and one he's adamant won't derail him.
"It was just kind of, like, a freak kind of accident that happened," Smith said. "It happened on one of the first drives I was in the game and I kind of felt it.
"I didn't really think it was too much and we wanted to play it safe and get an MRI the next day, and I found out I had hurt my knee more severe than what we thought. So I had do what was best for myself and kind of get it repaired but surgery went well. My recovery has been going really well, and I'm just blessed."
Turning 24 in August, Smith is on the comeback trail and looking to regain all that momentum dashed last year.