Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. looks like he’s ready for more responsibility in the offense. He proved as much in last Sunday’s 26-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, finishing with 63 receiving yards and a touchdown, and providing a needed spark with fellow tight end Kyle Rudolph out with a foot injury.

It was arguably the best game of Smith’s young career to this point, which is a little surprising considering the Vikings selected him in the second round of last year’s draft, and expected the former University of Alabama star to play a key role in the offense moving forward.

Perhaps that is now coming to fruition for the 22-year-old. He is finally healthy after battling through a groin injury and a back injury earlier this season, and with that behind him, he is looking to build on his recent success in this Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

“I feel great,” Smith said “I’ve been rehabbing very hard and just trying to take care of my body as best as possible.”

After suffering the initial groin injury Nov. 8 against the Detroit Lions — a game in which he caught a pair of touchdowns — Smith worked his way back only to suffer an entirely separate back injury following a Nov. 22 game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

While those injuries forced Smith out of the lineup, he finally appears to be at full strength heading into the stretch run.

“He’s a great asset,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “Just the burst that he can give us in a variety of different pass plays. He gives us also some versatility with the personnel groupings and what we’re going to put on the field.”

In offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s offense, a versatile tight end is crucial, and that’s exactly what Smith provides. He can line up in the backfield as a fullback, play on the offensive line as an extra blocker or split out wide as a legit receiving threat. All of those things put extra stress on a defense.

“Just getting more nuances in the offense so I can really go out there and play fast,” Smith said. “Just trying to detail my game as much as possible and try to become a complete tight end.”

That said, as the 6-foot-2, 242-pound Smith knows, his ability to be a mismatch downfield will always be his biggest strength. He has showcased that a various points in his career, and after his performance against the Buccaneers, he wants to do it with more regularity.

“He and (fellow tight end Tyler Conklin) were making tremendous plays,” rookie receiver Justin Jefferson said. “Those guys just stepped up to the plate. We needed those guys to step up and to make big plays for the team, and they did exactly that. I’m looking forward to what they have this weekend.”

If Smith can continue making plays, the sky is the limit for him.

“Most definitely,” he said. “I feel like I’ve made a lot of improvements. I feel like, for me, I’m very hard on myself, and I know this organization expects a lot out of me as well. I just kind of take one day at time, and one step at a time, and just try to get better each day.”