The pressure on Michael Bennett was immediate.
The Vikings' 27th overall selection in last April's draft out of Wisconsin, Bennett was the first running back taken by the team in the opening round since Robert Smith in 1993.
Bennett, of course, was taken with the expectation that he would help replace Smith, who abruptly retired following last season.
But this season has been more about learning than producing for Bennett. The best thing that happened to the running back might have been a high ankle sprain that forced him to miss games against Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.
Before his injury, Bennett had started all five games and rushed for 214 yards on 61 carries (3.5 average). Entering Sunday's game against Tennessee, Bennett's average had increased to 3.9 yards per carry (142 yards on 36 rushes) in the three games since he returned. That included a 75-yard rushing performance on 12 carries in the Week 11 loss to the Bears.
Bennett also scored his first NFL touchdown on an 80-yard reception in the Vikings' loss to the Steelers in Week 12. "It was a great thing," he said of the score. "It just felt so good to get in the end zone. It's something I've been wanting to do all year."
Bennett agreed that missing time was probably for the best. "Just being able to get time off and watch the game, correct my mistakes, do a lot more film work on myself, evaluate myself," he said. "I got a chance to see just the worth of patience. I think that's really helped me grow and mature and be able to get some pretty decent runs here in this stretch."
During his two seasons at Wisconsin, Bennett used his great speed to rush for 1,979 yards on 367 carries (5.4 average) and 15 touchdowns, including 11 last season. But Bennett quickly found out speed only goes so far against NFL defenses.
In fact, Bennett has found that, if anything, he needs to be more patient in trying to find the holes. "It's a patient game but it's fast at the same time, so you have to be able to let your blocks and everything set in order for you to make a decent run," he said. "In college (the holes opened) right away. But now in this league, they open and close so you have to keep your eyes open big."
Bennett, though, admits waiting for blocks isn't always easy. "Yeah, it is (tough) because I have an on and off switch," he said. "I've got to get the switch that is in between to kind of dim it a little bit. For me, it just means slowing down, being able to read things, and just being able to let everything happen for me."
Bennett, meanwhile, said he is glad to see fellow rookie running backs LaDanian Tomlinson of San Diego and Anthony Thomas of Chicago having successful seasons.
Tomlinson, who was taken with the fifth overall pick in the draft, led the Chargers and all rookies with 956 rushing yards on 262 carries and 10 touchdowns entering Sunday's game at Philadelphia. Thomas, taken in the second round with the 38th pick, was the Bears' leading rusher with 638 yards on 150 carries and four TDs entering Sunday's game at Green Bay.
"I think it's great," Bennett said. "We all came in and we had bets on each other, who is going to be the Rookie of the Year. They are doing a great job. I talked to LaDanian two weeks ago and he is doing great out there. I talked to Anthony last week in the Chicago game. I'm happy and I'm proud for those guys.
* Randy Moss was back at it again Wednesday, this time talking to Tennessee reporters on a conference call. Moss affirmed his quote of playing when he wants to play and basically said that nobody in the world can make him play. Unfortunately, it is looking like that is true, because Dennis Green has to know his job is on the line if he can't get Moss to produce. So much for Moss feeling like he owes Green something for drafting him. It's looking like money is the only thing Moss feels like he deserves, and since he's got it now, why try -- unless, of course, pride might matter in the least.
* The Vikings were one of several teams interested in signing free-agent defensive tackle James Jones, but the former Detroit Lion decided to retire. Jones, an 11-year veteran, was cut by the Lions the day before their season opener. Other teams interested in Jones were Baltimore, Chicago, Green Bay, Miami and Oakland.
* The Vikings' 13-6 loss to the Bears on Nov. 25 was ESPN's highest-rated NFL telecast of the season and most-viewed NFL telecast since December 1999. The game had an 8.73 rating, representing an average of 7,441,000 households.
* Robert Griffith has been named the Vikings Community Man of the Year for the second year in a row. Griffith, who three years ago founded the Robert Griffith Foundation that provides college scholarships in both Minnesota and California, will receive a check to his foundation for $1,000 through NFL Charities.
Bennett Learning Patience
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