Tice Testing Bennett's Stamina

Coming off a frustrating season of missed time in 2003, Michael Bennett has looked primed for his best season as a pro in 2004. Head coach Mike Tice is testing Bennett's conditioning to make sure he is ready for a role as a feature back.

Michael Bennett swept right and turned on the speed, covering 40 yards before a defensive back knocked him out of bounds Tuesday.

As he came back to the huddle, Mewelde Moore was about to replace Bennett, but coach Mike Tice stepped in.

"I wanted to see what he could do when he was tired," Tice said.

On the next play, Bennett took a swing pass to the left, made a head fake that sent linebacker Mike Nattiel to the ground and burst upfield for another long gain.

"That was absolutely, positively Michael Bennett's best day as a pro, as far as practice," Tice said.

Bennett, who missed half of last season with a foot injury, is being counted on as an every-down player, and to find out if he can handle that, Tice has put Bennett into a lot of short-yardage situations.

On Tuesday, in a red-zone drill, Bennett ran a draw play, finishing it by putting his helmet down and plowing between a couple of defenders to get a couple of extra yards.

"We want to see if he can turn himself into that elite back that we think he can be," Tice said. "He had a brilliant performance today."

* Running back Onterrio Smith and receiver Keenan Howry both returned to practice. Running back Moe Williams, who has been hobbled by a strained calf, will be rested until Monday.

* Linebacker E.J. Henderson missed most of the morning practice with flu-like symptoms. Max Yates ran with the first unit at middle linebacker.

The Vikings reached an injury settlement with guard Tam Hopkins and released him, with free-agent lineman Brandon Newton getting signed to take his place.

The team will hold its first intrasquad scrimmage tonight. Following a three-hour morning workout that featured a lot of hitting, Tice said he's eager to see how his players handle a tough day.

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