EDEN PRAIRIE -- Minnesota running back Doug Chapman will be out about two weeks with a high right ankle sprain, leaving the Vikings' already banged-up backfield one less rusher for their season opener against Green Bay.
The Vikings, who close out the preseason this week against Arizona, are already without All Pro back Michael Bennett. Chapman, who had been listed as the starter, injured his ankle in Friday's exhibition win over Oakland.
Veteran Moe Williams, the team's third-down back, will start Minnesota's season opener Sept. 7 against the Packers, head coach Mike Tice said Sunday. But rookie Onterrio Smith, who has impressed the coaches in training camp, could see some early action as well.
Smith, the Vikings' fourth-round draft pick, has rushed for three touchdowns in the preseason and has been solid in drills, but Tice has said he doesn't want to start a rookie at Lambeau Field to open the season.
Chapman, a fourth-year player, has spent the last two seasons backing up Bennett. He played in six games last season before a season-ending injury that caused internal bleeding.
With Bennett out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his foot, the Vikings turned to a running back-by-committee approach with Chapman as the starter, Smith the student backup and Williams the short-yardage man.
Third-year back Larry Ned had once figured prominently in the mix, but he hurt his chances to make the team with two costly fumbles in the preseason. Ned is also out with a concussion suffered during the Vikings' final passing scrimmage last week.
So that leaves Williams, Smith and third-year back John Avery to handle the rushing duties. Coaches were high on Avery during training camp, but figured he would be primarily used on special teams.
Smith will get most of the action against the Cardinals on Thursday.
"He needs to get some work," Tice said.
CRAWLING ALONG: Although the Vikings had their best week of the preseason, Tice isn't ready to call them a "good football team."
"It was a step in the right direction," the coach said. "But I'm certainly not going to make more of a big deal out of it, just like I didn't make more of a big deal out of it when we struggled in the first two games. That would be kind of like a phony act."
Tice was pleased with a number of areas, including the pass rush, pass protection, the running game and the play of his young defensive backs.
But he wasn't happy with the kicking game and kickoff coverage.
Hayden Epstein further hurt his cause by missing two easy field goal attempts from 26 and 38 yards in Friday's win over the Raiders.
Last week, Tice said Aaron Elling gained the edge over the injury-nagged Epstein in the place kicker competition. The coaches were hoping Epstein would win the job since he's the only kicker on the roster with regular-season NFL experience.
Overall, Tice said the entire team needs to improve its awareness on the field.
"We've got a lot of areas on our team that are not playing winning football yet," Tice said.
GROWING PAINS: Rookie tight end Sean Berton got an earful from Tice on Friday after laying a late hit out of bounds, costing the Vikings a penalty. Cameras caught Tice screaming at Berton on the sidelines and grabbing his facemask.
But Tice said Sunday that Berton responded well.
"He played really well. I like Berton. If I didn't like Berton, I would have let him walk off the field and ignored him. I'm trying to make him a better player. He's a tough kid," Tice said.
The coach said Berton, a good blocker, is exactly what the team needs in a third tight end.
EXTRA POINTS: The coaches planned to make a round of cuts on Monday to get the roster down to 65 players by Tuesday's deadline. After a light, hour-long practice on Sunday, the coaching staff met in the evening to discuss the personnel moves.
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