Bennett could miss the season

Surgery may sideline Vikings running back

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

MINNEAPOLIS -- After a setback to his surgically repaired left foot, Michael Bennett must make a decision that could cost him the entire 2003 season.

The Vikings' starting running back could choose a procedure that could get him back on the field late in the preseason, or a safer procedure that essentially would sideline him for the season.

"It's ultimately Mike's decision,'' Vikings head coach Mike Tice said Wednesday night. "He has to decide which route he needs to go. If all goes well, he could be there for second or third preseason game. But in speaking with Mike at length, the advice I gave him was to sleep on it.''


Sources close to the situation said a screw inserted into Bennett's foot during spring surgery has broken. He injured the foot in March when he came down on it awkwardly while running on a treadmill at the team's headquarters in Eden Prairie. He had surgery a few weeks later.

Now he's headed for more surgery. One option is the one Tennessee Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse took in February.

Kearse broke a bone in his left foot on the second snap of the 2002 season opener. He had a screw inserted into the foot and returned for the final three games of the season but was ineffective. He later underwent a bone graft procedure involved removing the screw, transferring bone from Kearse's hip and inserting it into the break with another screw. He returned to practice in June and expects to be ready for the start of training camp.

The Vikings believed Bennett's rehabilitation was going well as late as last week. He had a CT scan that showed he was progressing well, but he complained of soreness this week.

The Vikings led the NFL in rushing last season with 2,507 yards. Bennett was the team's top rusher, running for 1,296 yards and five touchdowns on 255 carries, a 5.1-yard average. The second-leading rusher was quarterback Daunte Culppper with 609 yards, followed by running back Moe Williams with 414 yards and 11 touchdowns on 84 attempts.

Tice said the team can't sulk over Bennett's injury.

"We had a setback and we have to deal with it,'' he said. "It's a part of the business we're in.''

Other available running backs are Doug Chapman, a former third-round pick, and rookie Onterrio Smith, a fourth-round pick the team believes possesses first-round talent. In addition, the team is intrigued by Larry Ned, the second all-time leading rusher at San Diego State behind Marshall Faulk. Ned was signed to the team's practice squad last December.

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