Back In Action

Defensive lineman Willie Howard returned to practice Monday for the first time since devastating knee and leg injuries last year. Now he has to compete for a roster spot and is happy to get the opportunity ahead of schedule.

Defensive lineman Willie Howard was activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list Tuesday, and the second-year defensive lineman participated in his first contact since a gruesome knee and leg injury suffered in a game last season against Tennessee.

"I'm really proud of Willie Howard," Vikings coach Mike Tice said. "He's worked extremely hard."

Howard was working at left end, and Tice said Howard is competing for the eighth roster spot that will be used on defensive linemen. Howard, who played both inside and outside, had 22 tackles, including four for loss, in his eight games as a rookie.

"I was just starting to get my opportunity," Howard said. "I went from 10 snaps a game to about 25 snaps. I was able to call my friends and tell them, `Hey, I made some tackles.' I just knew that was going to be my game. Until the third quarter."

Howard was hit from behind by a Titans lineman and suffered a torn knee ligament and broken leg. He had suffered a torn knee ligament at Stanford, but the broken femur added to the rehab.

Howard said he was told that he wouldn't return until at least late October, and he had prepared to miss the whole season. But through the encouragement of his family, as well as several teammates, he's ahead of schedule.

"Even though people would get in my ear and say I might not play anymore, I knew I just had to work hard," he said. "I had my family, and my football family, everybody telling me that it would be all right. I had a lot of people who stayed by my side."

* Veteran guard Corbin Lacina participated in most of Monday's morning practice, splitting time at left guard with Cory Withrow. Lacina suffered a sprained knee in Friday's practice with Kansas City. Lacina, who was expected to play a backup role this season, is starting in part because top draft pick Bryant McKinnie remains unsigned and is not in camp.

* Rookie cornerback Brian Williams was not in pads Monday. He suffered a hamstring injury Friday.

* Defensive tackle Winfield Garnett injured his hamstring on Friday and it may require surgery. Rookie linebacker Max Yates is expected to be out for at least two weeks after separating his shoulder.

* However, receivers Derrick Alexander and Cedric James, and cornerback Eric Kelly were all back Monday after missing time with muscle strains.

* The Vikings held a short practice Monday morning, spending two hours before practice watching film to review mistakes made in the practices with the Chiefs.

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