Bennett to make season debut vs. Pack
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. --t didn't take long for Michael Bennett to settle back into the daily practice routine.
"I got yelled at the first day back," the third-year Minnesota Vikings running back said on Wednesday.
Last week, coach Mike Tice read in a newspaper that Bennett, who had been recovering from a foot surgery, said he missed the little things about playing pro football -- like the physical weardown and being yelled at by coaches.
So Tice gladly welcomed him back.
"It was kind of a joke," Bennett said. "It kind of got my head back into it."
A week after returning to practice, Bennett is ready to return to the lineup Sunday when the Vikings (6-1) host Green Bay. It's been a hard wait for Bennett, whose entire season had been threatened by the broken bone in his left foot.
He was injured while running on a treadmill during the offseason and elected to have a complicated procedure in July to speed the healing process.
Tice said Bennett will officially be activated later this week, although he hasn't decided how much Bennett will play against the Packers (3-4).
"He's going to get more and more work as the week progresses and see how he feels in the mornings," Tice said. "He'll definitely play."
On Wednesday, Bennett said he felt 100 percent.
"I just want to get on the field," he said.
"I didn't know if I was going to play again, and now I'm out here getting ready to play against a rival team in a big game Sunday night. And I'm just looking forward to it."
Bennett rushed for 1,296 yards last year and played in the Pro Bowl. The Vikings have successfully used a committee of running backs to fill his spot. They enter Sunday's game with 960 yards rushing, 508 by starter Moe Williams.
While the ground attack has helped open things up for quarterback Daunte Culpepper and his receivers, Tice hasn't been happy lately with the running game in the fourth quarter, where Minnesota's been outscored 23-0 the last two games. Having Bennett back gives the Vikings another speedy threat from the backfield.
"He's a guy that can take it the length of the field at any point," Culpepper said. "Any time he catches the ball on any play, it could be a touchdown, potentially, if everybody executes their blocks."
Bennett, a former Wisconsin sprint champion, found his groove toward the middle of last season. He electrified Metrodome crowds with his bursts of speed for long gains and the Vikings finished 2002 as the NFL's best rushing team.
But he never expected to be out of action for nearly nine months.
"Being a football player and not being able to do something that you've been doing all your life, and to be on the outside looking in, it was just one of those things that was hard for me," he said.
"Football doesn't last forever."
At first, the recovery went slowly. Then in July, Bennett underwent a procedure in which doctors drew bone marrow from his hip, mixed it with protein and injected the fluid into his foot. The procedure is designed to stimulate bone growth.
If that hadn't worked, Bennett would've needed surgery that would have likely ended his season. But the bone is healing nicely and Bennett is back practicing and hitting at full speed.
"It's a big sigh of relief," he said. "The biggest sigh is going to come after the game Sunday."
Having Bennett back in the lineup should also provide an emotional boost for his teammates.
"We all know what he is capable of," guard Chris Liwienski said. "It definitely increases our confidence as an offense."
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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