Bennett Breaking Out

Running back Michael Bennett is coming on strong after a slow -- and interrupted -- first half of the season, and his teammates and coaches are seeing the progress.

Many onlookers have expressed disappointment in the impact (or lack thereof) of rookie running back Michael Bennett much of the season, but few remember that even the legend he's replacing, Robert Smith, only rushed for 399 yards as a rookie in 1993.

Bennett, despite a slow start and missing a few games with a bum ankle, has already surpassed that and has begun to show some of that same home-run, score-from-anywhere-on-the-field speed that he was billed to possess when the Vikings tabbed him with their first-round pick in this year's draft.

With more balance in the offense and some actual holes to run through, Bennett has begun to break loose.

"You come in as a rookie, and there are a lot of things thrown at you," Bennett said. "You have to learn to be patient. You have to have a strong head and a good heart."

Despite the slow start, however, the coaches and his teammates have seen his ability. "It's been a long year for Michael," wide receiver Cris Carter said. "The offense is a lot different than what he's used to. But he's been professional about it. He's going to be a great pro."

"I think Bennett will finish the year real strong" Vikings coach Dennis Green said. "He has since coming back from the ankle injury. In fact, he had his best game going into the ankle injury. So if he had played all of the games, I think he would be showing some real good things. He's a very good player, strong runner, good balance, and obviously very explosive."

Simply getting the opportunity to utilize his explosiveness and speed are the primary factors in Bennett's increased production.

"A back is all about lanes. You've got to give him running lanes," Green said. "I think our guys are run blocking a little better as the season has gone on."

But Bennett himself has gotten better, become more patient and improved his timing.

"Just being able to get a little 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. Like I said, 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. For me, it just means slowing down, being able to read things, and just being able to let everything happen for me."

He's already ahead of the pace set by his predecessor.

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