Teams says RB Bennett will miss opener

Updated: August 30, 2004, 4:35 PM ET
Associated Press

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Brock Lesnar won't be the next big thing in the NFL -- at least not this year.

Lesnar, the former pro wrestling star who hadn't played football in nine years, was cut by the Minnesota Vikings on Monday. The team also said injured running back Michael Bennett will miss the season opener.

Lesnar developed faster than expected and impressed his teammates with hard work. But his lack of football experience -- combined with minimal playing time and a painful groin injury from an April motorcycle accident -- were too much to overcome in just one month of training camp.

"He gave me a hug," coach Mike Tice said. "He was very happy for the chance."

Lesnar, 27, won the 2000 NCAA heavyweight championship at the University of Minnesota, and gained pro wrestling fame as "The Next Big Thing."

But he walked away from a seven-year, $45 million WWE contract in March to pursue a professional football career. On the eve of training camp, Lesnar signed a one-year contract with the Vikings for $230,000, the rookie minimum.

"When he called me, that's all he asked for, is an opportunity," Tice said. "I think we gave him a good opportunity to see if this is what he wanted to do."

Tice declined to speculate about whether Lesnar would be added to the Vikings' practice squad, but said the club would be "proud" to allocate him to the NFL's developmental league next spring.

"I suggest to him that he should at some point end up in NFL Europe this year and play," Tice said. "Hopefully, that will be as a Viking."

Lesnar wasn't available at camp to comment. His agent, Ed Hitchcock, said Lesnar wants to continue his development on the practice squad and in NFL Europe.

"He's committed to this long-term," Hitchcock said. "He's realistic about what it takes to develop. There are players who've played this game all their lives who take a couple of years to develop [in the NFL]."

As for Bennett, he'd be ready to play now -- if it weren't for a sprained right knee. The running back will miss the team's regular-season opener Sept. 12 against Dallas, Tice said.

Bennett, injured in the third quarter of Friday's exhibition win on a low hit by 49ers safety Erik Totten, underwent an MRI exam Saturday that revealed more damage than originally diagnosed.

Tice initially said that Bennett would be "a little iffy" for the Dallas game, but on Monday declared his starting back out for the opener.

"We'll try to push Mike to get back as soon as he can," Tice said. "Hopefully, it's the second game against Philly [on Sept. 20]. We'll see how it progresses."

Short-yardage specialist Moe Williams will start the opener. Rookie Mewelde Moore and Larry Ned also will see action.

The Vikings' depth in the backfield was considered a strength entering the season. But with Bennett sidelined, the team will be without its best two backs in the first game.

Onterrio Smith, Bennett's top backup, is expected to miss the first four games of the regular season for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

"If No. 32 [Smith] didn't get himself a vacation, we wouldn't have any concern [about Bennett's absence]," Tice said.

Barring a successful appeal, Smith won't be eligible to return until the Vikings' fifth game, at New Orleans on Oct. 17.

Bennett, 26, has played in all 16 games just once in his four-year career.

Foot and ankle injures limited the 5-foot-9, 209-pound back to just eight games last season. He finished with 90 carries for 447 yards and one touchdown, a significant dropoff from his numbers in 2002, when he made his first Pro Bowl.

Bennett also missed three games in 2001 with a sprained ankle.

"I'm going to be a little teary-eyed in the opener," Bennett said. "But I know I'll be back, hopefully, the following week."

Lesnar wasn't the only player cut Monday, the Vikings cut seven in all, including backup kicker Dan Orner. That leaves only incumbent Aaron Elling on the roster.

Elling botched two field goals and an extra point in Friday's 23-10 preseason win over the San Francisco 49ers. The club began scanning other NFL rosters for a potential replacement Saturday, but Tice said Elling will handle placekicking duties in Thursday's preseason finale at Seattle.

Although Orner was more consistent than Elling in practice, the coaching staff felt the 5-foot-8 rookie lacked the leg strength to kick off in the NFL.

"Some guys weren't given a fair chance, like Dan Orner, because I put my eggs in the basket of Aaron Elling," Tice said. "I don't know if Dan can kick at this level or not.

"I will not use a rookie kicker again. I don't think my health could take that."

Cornerback Reggie Austin, wide receiver Omar Jenkins, guard Brandon Newton, tackle Alan Reuber and linebacker Merrill Robertson also were released.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press