Linebacker Za’Darius Smith on Become a Viking

“I had a chance yesterday to go to the museum, and they were telling me a lot about a lot of history here,” Smith said. “They were like these four guys here [were] in the Pro Bowl at the time. I was like, ‘No way.’

“And he said Purple People Eaters,” Smith added. “And I was like, ‘OK. See you at quarterback.’ It’s a slogan that we can carry on here and hopefully for the next two years.”

There’s no question that Smith and Hunter have the potential and talent to be among the league’s best quarterback tandems.

But the key to that success will be health, as the players have missed 42 games combined over the past two seasons.

Hunter missed all of 2020 with a neck injury before tearing his pec in Minnesota’s Game 7 of 2021. Smith, meanwhile, played just 18 snaps in Green’s season opener Bay with a back injury and missed the remainder of the regular season.

Smith returned for the playoffs and had a sack against the 49ers, playing 19 snaps for the Packers in their Divisional Round home loss.

The 29-year-old declared himself ready to go on Tuesday after undergoing surgery for a bulging disc in his back last season.

“Coming into this season, I felt something when I was in the weight room and that was my lower back,” Smith said. “A lot of athletes have bulging discs, so what they said was that my bulging disc was a little bigger than normal.

“I went to [Los Angeles]obtained [surgery] done with my doctor. One of the best doctors ever. Completed the surgery. I don’t know too many people [who] back from back surgery,” Smith added. “But I came back in four months, I had the chance to train for three weeks before that playoff game. As you can see, I am as healthy as ever. I just did my physical. Everything is clear. Man so excited. The back is fine.”

Smith hopes to return to the form he had in 2019 and 2020 when he won back-to-back Pro Bowl honors and terrorized the rest of the league.

He recorded career highs in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (17) in 2019 to make his first Pro Bowl. Smith followed that up with another Pro Bowl season with 12.5 sacks, also earning second-team All-Pro honors from The Associated Press.

“He’s a proven player with a long record in this league,” Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said. “He’s normally a motivated player, but I think he’s very motivated to regain his place among the best in the league he belongs to.”

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