Bennett will miss Vikings' season opener
Kevin Seifert, Star Tribune
August 29, 2004 VIKE0829
Anyone wondering why the Vikings haven't traded one of their running backs should understand now. The team learned Saturday that starter Michael Bennett will miss up to a month because of a sprained right knee, a surprising prognosis for an injury initially deemed minor in the aftermath of Friday's 23-10 preseason victory against San Francisco.
An MRI performed Saturday revealed a second-degree sprain of Bennett's medial collateral ligament, giving him virtually no chance to play in the Sept. 12 season opener against Dallas. Privately, team officials are bracing for him to miss the Sept. 20 game at Philadelphia as well and are hoping he can return Sept. 26 against Chicago.
With backup Onterrio Smith expected to serve a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, the Vikings will start veteran Moe Williams against the Cowboys, coach Mike Tice said. Williams, rookie Mewelde Moore and first-year player Larry Ned will split time in the absence of Bennett and Smith.
"That's why we kept the depth, so we wouldn't have to worry about something like this," Tice said after the Vikings' 45-minute workout Saturday at Winter Park. "If we didn't have the kind of depth we have, we'd be worried. It's a shame to lose Mike, but this isn't golf. Injuries happen."
Williams filled in capably last season when Bennett sat out eight games because of a stress fracture in his foot, but the Vikings will miss one of their key playmakers. After quiet performances in the first two preseason games, Bennett ran for 91 yards on 11 carries Friday night.
However, at the end of an 11-yard run in the third quarter, 49ers safety Erik Totten hit Bennett's right knee with his helmet. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie injured his right knee on the same play, but tests revealed only a minor sprain. McKinnie will miss Thursday's preseason finale but will start against Dallas.
Bennett was convinced Friday night that his injury was minor as well. After his injury-shortened 2003 season, he was primed for a breakout performance this season.
Instead, injuries will shorten a season for the third time in his four-year career. Bennett appeared distraught by Saturday's news as he left Winter Park.
"I have no comment," he said. "It just feels real sore, man."
Tice acknowledged he briefly second-guessed his decision to send the starting offense onto the field for the first series of the third quarter. Along with many other NFL coaches, Tice uses the third preseason game to give his first-team players the sensation of returning to competition after the halftime cooldown.
When both Bennett and McKinnie were hurt on the same play, Tice wondered if the approach was worth the additional injury risk.
"But the more I thought about it, the more I realized an injury can happen any time," Tice said. "Michael could have done the same thing in the first quarter, and it wouldn't be an issue. [Extending starters into the third quarter] is something you have to do. How can your team be in game shape when the season starts if they haven't even played into the second half in one preseason game? It's a shame, but injuries are a part of football."
The Vikings could do worse than start Williams against Dallsas. He rushed for a career-high 745 yards last season, including a combined 283 yards in the first three games. He was limited during this year's training camp by a strained calf muscle but said Saturday, "I feel great now."
Tice traditionally limits the play of rookies early in the season; last year, Williams carried 22 times in the opener at Green Bay while Smith did not play. But Moore should take some carries against Dallas, and the Vikings are hoping that Ned -- who reeled off a 24-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter Friday -- can contribute as well.
Ned will play extensively Thursday against the Seahawks.
"I came to camp knowing that I needed to be ready for anything," said Ned, who spent last year on the practice squad. "I needed to be ready to step up when the opportunity is there. Unfortunately, Bennett is out. He'll come back and be well. But in the meantime, the rest of us have to step up -- me, Mewelde and Moe."