Bringing Back The Speed

The Vikings will see an increase in offensive speed this week as two important players make their way back onto the field.

Seeing Michael Bennett rejoin the Vikings against the Packers on Sunday night will be plus. But so will the return of wide receiver Kelly Campbell, who was inactive against the New York Giants.

Because Campbell was inactive and Bates was still gimpy, the Vikings started Nate Burleson and Keenan Howry, a pair of rookies. Campbell is far from an NFL elder statesman, but his speed opposite Moss can stretch out defenses.

"It's always important to get someone as fast as he is back on the field," Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper said.

The Vikings missed Campbell during his one-game absence more than Tice initially thought.

"After playing the (Giants), we missed him a lot more than we felt going into the game," head coach Mike Tice said. "His speed — he's a big playmaker."

After rushing for just 72 yards against the Giants, the Vikings offense will also welcome back Bennett.

The combination of Moe Williams and Onterrio Smith was enough for some games, but lately the Vikings offense has lacked the consistency from its ground game that it possessed earlier this year. For instance, they rushed for 154 yards against Green Bay in Week 1, 202 yards against Chicago in Week 2, and 166 yards against Atlanta in Week 5.

"Having a running back like Bennett is always a plus because he's a home run threat," Culpepper said. "He's a guy that can take it the length of the field at any point. We're excited to have Michael back."

Even though he has been out all season, Bennett doesn't seem like he is starting at day one.

"He's been in all the meetings, he's been watching a lot of film, so he knows what we've been doing schematically, so it won't be a whole lot of changing," Culpepper said.

When the news surfaced in the offseason regarding Bennett's fractured foot there were some reports that hinted he might be out for the season. Even though he will start his return Sunday, Bennett said he thought the foot would have healed quicker.

"It didn't really heal as quickly as I wanted it to," he said. "I would have rather been back at training camp, practicing, and then going through the whole season. But I am happy the way things have healed. The time limit made it seem like it took forever."

After nine months of rehabilitating the fractured foot, Bennett feels like an unofficial expert of foot injuries.

"Now I think I'm going to go back to school and get a degree being a foot doctor," he said.

Bennett's return will finally complete the Pro Bowl-caliber three-pronged attack the Vikings possess on offense. Culpepper's back is improving every week. If Randy Moss' back spasms are affecting his playmaking abilities, opponents aren't seeing it. Now, Bennett is returning.

Bennett, the Vikings' first-round draft pick in 2001, rushed for 682 yards during his rookie season. Last year, Bennett had a Pro Bowl season rushing for 1,296 yards and five touchdowns.

Last week, when he returned to full-contact practice, Bennett listed himself at 90 percent. "The only reason I say 90 is because I have to test it to see how it feels," he said.

Bennett was asked how he would feel once he got hit in a game for the first time since December 2002. "Hopefully, I'll bounce off with a big smile on my face and scream out hard and just keep going," he said.



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