Smith Evaluation Begins

How Onterrio Smith performs in certain situations in the opener will go a long way to determining his role in the immediate future. See what parts of his game the Vikings are looking to evaluate from his performance in Lambeau Field.

He wasn't in training camp on time. He got off to somewhat of a slow start once he got there. Once he became comfortable, his confidence grew, and then he displayed the physical ability that had the team excited when he was selected in the 2003 NFL draft.

If you hadn't figured out whom we are talking about, he is Onterrio Smith, the Minnesota Vikings' rookie running back from Oregon.

With starting running back Michael Bennett on the shelf for no less than the first six weeks of the season, Smith has taken advantage of the situation. Getting additional reps in camp and in practice, Smith is on the cusp of gaining a prominent role in the Minnesota offense.

As head coach Mike Tice ponders what is the best move for the team at running back, Smith has quietly earned the opportunity to tote the pigskin on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. While Tice has stated that Smith will not get the starting nod (Moe Williams will start) he will get in on the action early in the game, and how he responds to the pressure of his first NFL regular-season game, playing in the intimidating environment of Lambeau Field will determine the role for the rookie.

"We anticipate that Onterrio (Smith) will have some jitters when he hits the field, but with his makeup that won't last very long. This is a kid that wants to play and at this time, experience is the only thing keeping him back," a team source said. "We are not as much worried about what he can do with the ball in his hands as we are in him handling the assignments in the blocking/passing schemes. One mistake can be crucial, so we are going to be cautious there."

Improving his blocking and understanding of the offensive terminology as the weeks past in camp, Smith has become a viable option for the Vikings, just not this weekend in Green Bay, but for the future.

"Onterrio (Smith) has come in and done everything that we have asked him to do. He has worked hard and has learned what we want to accomplish here and how we want to accomplish it. He's a rookie and has a lot to learn, but he is a talented player that should only get better with experience," head coach Mike Tice recently said. "My stance hasn't changed as to Moe (Williams) starting the opener, but Smith and (Doug) Chapman will play if he is healthy."

"Losing Michael Bennett hurts us in the way of experience. Both Chapman and Smith are relatively inexperienced to game action, but I believe that we will run the football effectively due to our strength up front. The passing game will also aide what we do in the running game."

Heading into a week one contest against division rival Green Bay, the Vikings can make the early statement that they are ready to compete for the division title.

It won't hurt that the Packers do not play the run well — that could be the perfect match-up for these up-start Vikings with an upstart running back.

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