Bennett could return by mid-November

Updated: October 17, 2003, 8:51 PM ET
Associated Press

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings once feared Michael Bennett might be lost for the year, but the running back's season is close to getting started.

Bennett, who had a second surgery in July to fix his broken left foot, began agility drills this week without pain.

Wearing cleats and appearing to move at full speed, Bennett made diagonal cuts between orange cones on the field while his teammates practiced.

Bennett, who played in last year's Pro Bowl after finishing third in the NFC with 1,296 yards, hopes to participate in practice next week. Coach Mike Tice said the following week was more likely.

The team still has the Nov. 2 game against Green Bay targeted for Bennett's return.

"I'll be ready for that game if I don't have any setbacks," Bennett said. "Once I get back on the field, it's over, man. Hopefully nothing ever happens to it again where I have a problem with it."

Bennett is on the physically unable to perform list, so either Doug Chapman or John Avery will have to be let go when Bennett is activated. The bigger issue is how the carries will be split among Bennett, Moe Williams and rookie Onterrio Smith.

"We're fortunate we have excellent depth at the position," running backs coach Dean Dalton said.

Williams is tied for fifth in the NFC with 397 yards, and Smith is getting more and more involved as he becomes comfortable with the offense. The Vikings are fourth in the NFL in yards rushing.

The most-likely scenario has Bennett getting some work in November as he gradually gets in shape and becoming the starter again by the Dec. 7 game against Seattle.

"Hopefully I can get a little bit here and a little bit there," Bennett said. "It's the coaches' decision."

Tice, Dalton and the rest of the staff have been pleased with Bennett's attitude and willingness to spend time in the training room, in addition to watching film.

"He's worked really hard," Dalton said. "He's anxious to get back in there. His rehab effort has been outstanding."

Williams and Smith have both been positive about Bennett's pending return, too, instead of lamenting the potential loss of playing time.

"That addition," Smith said, "is going to be great.

"When Michael comes back, I know that Michael is the featured back. It's just me making the best of my opportunities when they present themselves."


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press