Bennett primed for big season Over his injuries, Viking has new focus
BY SEAN JENSEN, Pioneer Press
They see a different man now.
Not that Vikings head coach Mike Tice or running-backs coach Dean Dalton had a problem with Michael Bennett before, but the two coaches see subtle — albeit significant — changes to their star running back.
After rushing for 1,296 yards in 2002, Bennett missed the first seven games of last season with a foot injury, and he suffered an ankle injury as soon as he showed flashes of his old self late in the season.
Consequently, he has spent nearly all of his offseason at Winter Park, working out and watching film, preparing for what he expects to be his best season yet.
"I'm hoping to win the Super Bowl," Bennett said. "But as far as my goal, I want 1,500 yards rushing and eight to 10 touchdowns."
Tice said Bennett looks better than ever, and he credits Bennett's perspective.
"I think any time a player has the type of injury that causes you to miss an extensive amount of time and could have ended his career, I think you become more grateful and appreciate what you have, which is a career in the National Football League," Tice said. "So there's a different focus there with Michael."
Dalton said Bennett is stepping into a leadership role, and he understands the Vikings' system at an advanced level, something the team was concerned about given his modest playing experience at Wisconsin (he started just one season for the Badgers).
"His confidence is surfacing," Dalton said. "It's evident in our meetings. When we talk football, his understanding of the system and his knowledge of football is so much better."
Bennett is one of about 10 players to purchase a $10,000 computer that enables him to watch digital films, rather than having to convert them to another format.
Dalton added that Bennett is also becoming more of an "overt leader" because of his engaging personality and his placing the team above himself.
With Bennett on the sideline, the Vikings raced to a 6-0 start last season, and veteran Moe Williams and rookie Onterrio Smith provided ample run production. Dalton applauded Bennett for how he handled that period.
"Being a competitor, he wanted to be out there," Dalton said. "But being a team guy, he was supportive of his teammates' success. There was no animosity at all."
Dalton acknowledged that Bennett provides something neither Williams nor Smith can: world-class sprinter speed.
"He gives us home-run ability on every snap," Dalton added. "So getting him back is fantastic."
In January, Bennett planned to train as a sprinter. But when the Vikings hired strength and conditioning coaches Kurtis Schultz and Mark Ellis, Bennett decided to spend his offseason at Winter Park. He had worked with Ellis, who specializes in speed and quickness, and he was intrigued by Schultz's unconventional workout regimen.
Both coaches have helped him become faster than ever, Bennett said.
Bennett thought he had lost his speed last year.
"I thought I'd have to retire," he said. "I was thinking the worst."
He added that depression set in when he sprained his ankle while playing the Seattle Seahawks.
"I was like, 'What's next?' "
He rebounded, however, and quickly returned to 100 percent early in the offseason. Now he's preparing himself for training camp, and he expects this season to be, well, different.
"We got some exciting free agents, and I'm happy that I'll be healthy going into training camp," Bennett said. "We're really looking to turn heads, and I think this is the year for us."
Is it just me or is Bennett the 10th person to predict 1500 yds for himself this offseason?