Running back Michael Bennett is among 16 Vikings players who will be unrestricted free agents this offseason. The team's first-round pick in 2001, Bennett has had an up-and-down season that has seen him starting at times and barely able to get off the bench on other occasions.
His on-again, off-again use continued Sunday at Baltimore when he was pulled from the game after playing the first three plays and did not return. Still, Bennett has said he would like to remain with Minnesota after the season.
That, however, seems like a longshot. The Vikings tried to trade Bennett to Dennis Green's Arizona Cardinals — Green was the Minnesota coach when Bennett was drafted — for a late-round draft pick early in the season, but Arizona wasn't interested.
Bennett is trying to keep things as normal as possible this week as the Vikings prepare to play Chicago in their season finale Sunday at the Metrodome.
"I'm just looking forward to going out and playing," he said. "It's definitely an emotional time for myself and others. But I don't want to look at it as like my last day as a Viking or whatever term you could use for it. I just want to approach it like another game, going out, it's my last game of the year. Hopefully not (the last) with this team, but, you know, if it is, then I just have to deal with it."
Bennett is second on the Vikings with 391 rushing yards on 120 attempts (3.3 yards per carry) and has two touchdowns. Mewelde Moore leads Minnesota with 605 yards on 149 carries (4.1 average) and one touchdown.
It's quite possible the Vikings could look elsewhere for a running back after the season. Minnesota also must make a decision on Onterrio Smith, who is serving a one-year suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Rookie Ciatrick Fason also stands to see more playing time in 2006.
Keeping all of this in mind, Bennett admits he will take a little longer leaving the field Sunday.
"As far as playing, I will still be myself, but I'll probably just take my time walking off and just kind of soaking it all in," he said. "You hate to end on ... kind of like an up-and-down year like we've had. I guess things will work themselves out."
For someone who's played just six quarters of football after missing 26 regular-season games in a row, Bears quarterback Rex Grossman doesn't appear to have much rust to knock off.
"He's way ahead of somebody who's played 1 1/2 games, but he's not where somebody who's played 15 games would be; he's probably somewhere in the middle," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "I think it's a credit to the mental approach that he's taken, the approach that he took when he was hurt. And before he got hurt, (he was) working in the offseason to really learn the offense as much as you can without doing it."
The fractured ankle Grossman suffered on Aug. 12 curtailed his playing time but not his learning experience. Mentally, he didn't fall behind while he was on the sideline for the better part of two seasons.
"(Because of) all the mental reps that he's gotten all season, sitting in on meetings, taking notes, paying attention and being prepared when he wasn't even out there, there wasn't much of a learning curve," Turner said. "He was rusty the first week, which is to be expected, but after that he looked much more confident."
Grossman doesn't believe he's in midseason form yet, but he's far enough along that he doesn't need to play the whole game Sunday to be ready for a divisional-round playoff game two weeks later.
"I went through all of training camp and I played a couple preseason games, then I got the chance to sit for a while and observe the offense," he said. "Now I'm getting the chance to play at the end of the season. I feel like I'm at about the third or fourth game in the regular season."