Minnesota Vikings tailback Onterrio Smith has been apprised by the NFL that he faces a suspension for the entire 2005 season for a repeat violation of the league's substance abuse program, two sources with knowledge of his situation told ESPN.com.
The suspension, which would be the second sanction against the third-year veteran, is subject to appeal. Smith missed four games in 2004 after the former University of Oregon star tested positive for marijuana. A player has five days to appeal a suspension.
Citing the league's confidentiality guidelines on such matters, an NFL spokesman on Thursday declined comment.
It is not yet known what triggered Smith's latest violation but sources were adamant that it had nothing to do with an April 21 incident in which the Vikings back was stopped at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in possession of a device, "The Original Whizzinator," which is marketed as a way to beat drug tests.
Two team sources said Smith told them he had missed a league-administered drug test, which, according to the NFL guidelines, is tantamount to a positive screening.
Smith, 24, was present for the start of the Vikings' offseason program on Monday, was absent on Tuesday, then returned Wednesday. On Thursday, though, coach Mike Tice said that Smith would miss the rest of the team's offseason activities.
"He has been excused from the rest of the offseason program, and he will be gone indefinitely," Tice said. "I really can't speak about any reasons why, or when he will be back. It is in the league's hands. We'll leave it at that."
The decision to have Smith not attend the workouts, however, would have to be made, at this time, by Vikings officials. Since the suspension has not yet been enforced because of Smith's appeal rights, he is not precluded from attending club-related activities.
A fourth-round choice in 2003, Smith had a history of off-field problems in college, and they contributed to his depressed draft stock. When the Vikings ended his plummet in the fourth round, Smith referred to himself as the "SOD," explaining later that he considered himself the "steal of the draft."
In two seasons, Smith has appeared in 26 games and started nine of them. He has logged 231 carries for 1,123 yards and seven touchdowns. Smith also has 51 receptions for 523 yards and two touchdowns, and has returned 36 kickoffs for 743 yards.
The potential loss of Smith for the entire season is a blow to a Minnesota offense that Tice has insisted will refocus on the power running game the Vikings seemed to abandon at times in 2004. That said, the Vikings can still claim a deep tailback depth chart, with veterans Michael Bennett, Moe Williams and Mewelde Moore on hand, along with rookie Ciatrick Fason, of Florida, a fourth-round pick in last month's draft.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.