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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."