Bennett Has Big Expectations For 2004

Running back Michael Bennett is enjoying a healthy offseason and ready for himself and the team to return to glory. He has set some big goals for 2004.

Running back Michael Bennett isn't shy about his goals for 2004.

In order, they are:

1. Win a Super Bowl.

2. Get 1,500 yards rushing.

3. Score 10 touchdowns.

4. Win 14 games — "that's 14 regular-season games," he said.

After a Pro Bowl season in 2002 and the start of the 2003 season wiped out with a foot injury, Bennett has no problem stating his goals with confidence.

"There's something this year about our team. You can really, really feel it," Bennett said after a June developmental camp workout. "People will say, ‘Well, you say that every year.' Yeah, we say it, but you can just tell when things are really clicking. The passion and the fire in our head coach, we bring that energy that he gives to us out on the field for every practice. So imagine if we just take that into each and every game, that would just be so great."

His goal of reaching 1,500 yards might not be out of the question either. In 2002, his second year in the league, he had five 100-yard games and rushed for 1,296 yards, second in Vikings single-season history.

He also averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 2002 and 5.0 yards last year despite two key injuries, both of which are behind him, he says. The most serious was a broken bone in his foot that eventually needed a screw inserted to heal.

"It's definitely behind me," he said. "The only time I really think about it is when people ask me about it. I'm back in the swing of things.

"As far as my foot, I was 100 percent when I came back (against Oakland on Nov. 16), but I suffered an ankle injury to my right ankle in the Seattle game of last year (on Dec. 7) and I was kind of slow trying to get that back together. I just took the offseason to get better and here I am."

Bennett has been putting in full workouts for the Vikings in their May minicamp and June developmental camps without showing any signs of an injury. He has looked strong cutting and as fast as ever.

"I cut back about five pounds," he said. "I ran some 40s. When I came in as a rookie I clocked in a 4.19. (Recently) I clocked in about a 4.21, so my speed is still there. I haven't lost a step."

His speed has always been his greatest asset as a football player. It has also had some in the media label him as a track guy just playing football. With a Pro Bowl already to his credit, that rap seems like it should have long since been shed.

That label doesn't bother Bennett too much. He says track is his hobby and football is his "lifelong dream," one that he is living right now.

He hasn't let injury keep him from making a comeback, and he doesn't have a problem competing with two other talented running backs in 2004. Moe Williams ran for 745 yards, mostly in early-season action filling in for Bennett, and last year's rookie, Onterrio Smith, ran for 579 yards, including back-to-back 100-yard games in Bennett's second sideline stint because of injury.

Toward the end of the season, with Smith being a young talent looking to prove himself, some commentators felt he would be the better option as a starter for the Vikings long-term.

That line of thinking didn't appear to be working it's way into the rotation during spring camps this year, and Bennett says he didn't let it affect him too much last year either.

"I was never really worried (about losing the starting job), but as a football player you just want to be out there playing," he said. "When a guy like Moe or Onterrio or whoever steps in and does a great job, you can't do anything but cheer for them. They're my teammates and guys I look to for advice, and I'm pretty sure sometimes they look to me for advice. It's a competition thing. He (Smith) is doing a great job."

Being on the sidelines, in the treatment room and going through the rehabilitation process for most of 2003 gave Bennett time to think. Sometimes the thoughts were positive and other times he was downright depressed.

"Sitting out during that course of time gave me a greater appreciation for the game because it can be taken away from you at any moment," he said. "You have to be really dedicated in the weight room and the treatment room getting yourself better to come out and play again. At a point in time, I thought I was going to have to retire when it broke again. God was on my side looking over my shoulder and everything healed right 100 percent and I'm still drinking milk."

And he's still in the starting lineup with big expectations for 2004.

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