Posted on Fri, Jul. 23, 2004 BENNETT HEALTHY: Recovered from foot injury, running back is on a mission.
BY COURTNEY LEWIS
NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Minnesota Vikings running back Michael Bennett spent the first half of the 2003 NFL season sidelined with a foot injury. Meanwhile, he watched two backups aptly fill in for him.
With training camp just a week away, things are back where Bennett wants them. He's healthy, focused and entrenched at No. 1 on the depth chart.
"Michael's the starter," coach Mike Tice said. "We just hope that Michael's able to carry the entire load, except when he needs to take a little rest. Hopefully Michael can be the guy to carry the load for us every day."
Tice, Bennett and two other players were in Duluth Thursday signing autographs and meeting with fans at Bayfront Festival Park.
Bennett, a first-round draft pick out of Wisconsin in 2001, missed the first seven games in 2003 after suffering an offseason foot injury that required two surgeries. He started seven of the last eight games, accumulating 447 yards and just one touchdown. In his absence, Moe Williams and Onterrio Smith led the Vikings to the fourth-rated rushing offense in the NFL. Bennett, who didn't miss a game because of injury in his first two seasons, is anxious to be the Vikings' top rusher again.
"I'm definitely confident in that (starting role) and looking forward to having an outstanding year. I'm definitely excited. I'm feeling real healthy -- 110 percent," Bennett said.
Tice has been impressed with Bennett's offseason. The coach said Bennett is not just bigger and stronger heading into the 2004 season, he also is more focused and mature.
"I think it probably has a lot to do with just a young football player realizing what it's going to take on a consistent basis to be a great player," Tice said. "Also, I think the injury last year kind of slapped him in the face and made him wake up to the fact that, wow, this thing could be over tomorrow."
Bennett agreed that last season changed the way he approaches football.
"I have a chip on my shoulder, and being hurt last year, I didn't get to do what I wanted," Bennett said. "So I'm coming out just being more aggressive this year, being a lot more mentally focused."
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