EDEN PRAIRIE -- Michael Bennett was drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings last spring because he's fast, but his speed may have been more of a hindrance than a help so far.
"I have an on and off switch," Bennett said. "I've got to get the switch that is in-between to kind of dim it a little bit. For me, it just means slowing down, being able to read things and just being able to let everything happen."
After coach Dennis Green's training-camp prediction that Bennett would rush for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, the Minnesota Vikings' rookie running back has had a silent season -- on and off the field.
He's rushed for just 356 yards and scored his first TD last Sunday, in Minnesota's 11th game. Bennett has also declined most interviews since early in the season. Many times he said he didn't feel he deserved to talk.
The season overwhelmed the rookie from Wisconsin. Many times this season he has run too fast and into the backs of his offensive linemen, instead of waiting for a hole to open.
"I knew I had to be patient, but this game is fast," Bennett said. "Even the linemen run really well. So if you get a lot of fast people in one thing, you get a wreck. You kind of have to slow down and weave your way through certain things."
Bennett, a Big Ten track and field champion in the 100- and 200-meter dash, is one of the fastest backs in the league. But with only one full season as a starter for the Badgers, he's still learning how to play his position.
In his defense, Bennett missed three games with an ankle injury, so he hasn't had any chance to get into a rhythm carrying the ball.
"We've played 11 games, and Michael has missed three," Green said. "He's only carried the ball about 10 or 11 times a game. I think if we give him the ball, I think he can make some big plays."
And Bennett's blockers have been in flux all season. The offensive line is not close to what it was last season, with Korey Stringer's death, Todd Steussie's departure for Carolina and injuries to Corbin Lacina, David Dixon and Brad Badger. And 275-pound fullback Jim Kleinsasser has missed the past two games with a sprained ankle.
"We want him to do the best he can with the circumstances he's playing under," said tackle Chris Liwienski. "He's a rookie, he's got the injury, I think he's doing really well. He's been running the ball hard the last two weeks. He's learning, learning every week, just like the rest of us."
Another problem has been the Vikings' lack of running opportunities. They've been plagued by penalties and fallen behind often -- requiring them to pass more than they would like.
Bennett's confident he can finish the season strong.
"I know what I can do," Bennett said. "It's just all about opportunity. Right now I'm looking for finishing the season off with a great taste in my mouth."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.