Bennett Faces Watershed Year

Michael Bennett's career with the Vikings has been almost a mirror image of the start to Robert Smith's career. The team is hoping the comparisons will continue, but, after this season, there are no guarantees.

As an organization, the Vikings have always had a strong man-love for Michael Bennett. Denny Green, a master of hyperbole, called Bennett a "gift from God" after the Saints stole Deuce McAllister out from under the team in the draft.

Current coach Mike Tice has continued the trend, commenting often to the assembled media that Bennett is his guy and "looks great" -- even when not being asked questions about it.

But, the reality of the matter is that, like Smith, Bennett could find himself in a position that could determine his future based on the 2005 season. After years of having seasons cut short with injuries and re-injuries, Bennett is in a contract year and needing a big performance not only to keep the Vikings interested in giving him the long-term deal that will set up his family for life, but keep other teams interested as well.

Bennett's numerous injuries allowed players like Moe Williams, Onterrio Smith and Mewelde Moore to each step into the spotlight and shine -- giving many the idea that any RB can succeed behind the Vikings offensive line. Still, it is clear Bennett is Tice's guy and, if he can stay healthy, will get every opportunity to be a 1,300-yard RB.

If Bennett can put together a full season, don't be surprised to see the Vikings step up with a long-term contract offer. With Smith out of the picture for this year and quite possibly for good, Bennett's future is in his own hands -- and knees and feet and ankles. What he does with it is up to him. If his body sustains another injury, we may be seeing the last of No. 23 in purple and gold.

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