How Realistic Are Bennett's Goals?

Michael Bennett has some lofty goals for the 2004 season, but the way offensive coordinator Scott Linehan plans on backing him, Bennett just might be able to become one of the elite rushers in the league.

When Michael Bennett told us his goals for the 2004 season, they were big, as well they should be. His team goals are winning a Super Bowl and getting 14 regular-season wins.

His personal goals are big too. He wants to obtain 1,500 yards rushing and score 10 touchdowns. So how realistic are those goals?

First, let's look at the yardage. Last season, after missing the first seven games while finishing rehabilitating a Jones fracture, Bennett came back to average 5.0 yards on 90 carries. In 2002, he averaged 5.1 yards per carry, so an average of 5 yards a carry is very realistic. But to get to 1,500 yards at that pace, Bennett would have to rush the ball 300 times.

The top three running backs on the team last year — Moe Williams (174), Onterrio Smith (109) and Bennett (90) — combined for 371 carries. With 371 carries to the top backs, Bennett would have to get 81 percent of the carries to get to 1,500 yards while averaging 5 yards per rush, and that would mean he'd have to be the clear-cut feature back.

When we went to offensive coordinator Scott Linehan about Bennett's goals, Linehan confirmed that Bennett will be the feature back this year and Williams and Smith will be waiting in the wings.

"Bennett's our starting running back. It's his job to keep. The best thing for him, like anybody else, is competition," Linehan said. "The competition that happens in our building on the practice field is sometimes way more intense than what you face in a game. … When you've got good talent, good players waiting to get their chance, your job is to not give them the opportunity."

Even being the starting running back doesn't mean he'll get 300 carries — last year 13 NFL running backs had 300 or more attempts. Only six of those gained at least 1,500 yards.

It could come down to, as Linehan pointed out, Bennett's endurance during games.

"Even though Michael wasn't 100 percent at the end of last year, there were times where Onterrio came in … in the fourth quarter and he was kind of like a closer. He came in and was fresh. That's fresh legs with 220 pounds," Linehan said. "In a couple of those games, Michael just ran out of gas. Michael wants to be an every-down back, a guy that starts and closes every game. He also knows that these other guys have excelled in certain roles too."

Bennett has been training hard this offseason after having to spend much of last spring and summer in a cast while trying to heal his foot, then suffering an ankle injury after he returned to action late in the season.

After watching Bennett in spring camps this year, it is obvious he is the featured back who looks primed for a big season. However, even if Bennett does stay healthy, energized and carries the ball 300 times, his goal of getting 10 touchdowns would seem even a further stretch considering the Vikings' historical use of him inside the 10-yard line.

He had just one rushing touchdown last year, five in 2002 and two in 2001. In three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Bennett has eight touchdowns — and now he thinks he can score 10 times in one season?

"He doesn't want to run us down there and let Moe run it in. He wants to get it in," Linehan said.

But, ultimately, it will be a decision not made by Bennett. Running backs coach Dean Dalton, head coach Mike Tice and Linehan will be the ones dictating how many chances Bennett gets when the offense gets close to the goal line.

Linehan backs up Bennett's contention that he will get more opportunities to score this season.

"He's going to get his opportunities," Linehan said. "We're thinking of him as an every-down back. We'll be a lot less inclined to pull him out. He wants to take his game to another level, and that's obviously an area that he's putting a lot of focus in."

Entering the 2004 season, Bennett is healthy, has lost about five pounds, appears to be well-conditioned and has competition pushing him in practice.

And with the confidence of his offensive coordinator, Bennett just might be able to pull off 1,500 yards — which would put him right there with Robert Smith's team-record 1,521 — and even 10 rushing touchdowns.

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