Teams says RB Bennett will miss opener

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Brock Lesnar won't be the next big
thing in the NFL -- at least not this year.

Lesnar, the former pro wrestling star who hadn't played football
in nine years, was cut by the Minnesota Vikings on Monday. The team also said injured running back Michael Bennett will miss the season opener.

Lesnar developed faster than expected and impressed his
teammates with hard work. But his lack of football experience --
combined with minimal playing time and a painful groin injury from
an April motorcycle accident -- were too much to overcome in just
one month of training camp.

"He gave me a hug," coach Mike Tice said. "He was very happy
for the chance."

Lesnar, 27, won the 2000 NCAA heavyweight championship at the
University of Minnesota, and gained pro wrestling fame as "The Next
Big Thing."

But he walked away from a seven-year, $45 million WWE contract
in March to pursue a professional football career. On the eve of
training camp, Lesnar signed a one-year contract with the Vikings
for $230,000, the rookie minimum.

"When he called me, that's all he asked for, is an
opportunity," Tice said. "I think we gave him a good opportunity
to see if this is what he wanted to do."

Tice declined to speculate about whether Lesnar would be added
to the Vikings' practice squad, but said the club would be
"proud" to allocate him to the NFL's developmental league next

"I suggest to him that he should at some point end up in NFL
Europe this year and play," Tice said. "Hopefully, that will be
as a Viking."

Lesnar wasn't available at camp to comment. His agent, Ed
Hitchcock, said Lesnar wants to continue his development on the
practice squad and in NFL Europe.

"He's committed to this long-term," Hitchcock said. "He's
realistic about what it takes to develop. There are players who've
played this game all their lives who take a couple of years to
develop [in the NFL]."

As for Bennett, he'd be ready to play now -- if it weren't for a sprained right knee. The running back will miss the team's regular-season opener Sept. 12 against Dallas, Tice said.

Bennett, injured in the third quarter of Friday's exhibition win
on a low hit by 49ers safety Erik Totten, underwent an MRI exam
Saturday that revealed more damage than originally diagnosed.

Tice initially said that Bennett would be "a little iffy" for
the Dallas game, but on Monday declared his starting back out for
the opener.

"We'll try to push Mike to get back as soon as he can," Tice
said. "Hopefully, it's the second game against Philly [on Sept.
20]. We'll see how it progresses."

Short-yardage specialist Moe Williams will start the opener.
Rookie Mewelde Moore and Larry Ned also will see action.

The Vikings' depth in the backfield was considered a strength
entering the season. But with Bennett sidelined, the team will be
without its best two backs in the first game.

Onterrio Smith, Bennett's top backup, is expected to miss the first
four games of the regular season for violating the NFL's
substance-abuse policy.

"If No. 32 [Smith] didn't get himself a vacation, we wouldn't
have any concern [about Bennett's absence]," Tice said.

Barring a successful appeal, Smith won't be eligible to return
until the Vikings' fifth game, at New Orleans on Oct. 17.

Bennett, 26, has played in all 16 games just once in his
four-year career.

Foot and ankle injures limited the 5-foot-9, 209-pound back to
just eight games last season. He finished with 90 carries for 447
yards and one touchdown, a significant dropoff from his numbers in
2002, when he made his first Pro Bowl.

Bennett also missed three games in 2001 with a sprained ankle.

"I'm going to be a little teary-eyed in the opener," Bennett
said. "But I know I'll be back, hopefully, the following week."

Lesnar wasn't the only player cut Monday, the Vikings cut seven in all, including backup kicker Dan Orner. That leaves only incumbent Aaron Elling on the roster.

Elling botched two field goals and an extra point in Friday's
23-10 preseason win over the San Francisco 49ers. The club began
scanning other NFL rosters for a potential replacement Saturday,
but Tice said Elling will handle placekicking duties in Thursday's
preseason finale at Seattle.

Although Orner was more consistent than Elling in practice, the
coaching staff felt the 5-foot-8 rookie lacked the leg strength to
kick off in the NFL.

"Some guys weren't given a fair chance, like Dan Orner, because
I put my eggs in the basket of Aaron Elling," Tice said. "I don't
know if Dan can kick at this level or not.

"I will not use a rookie kicker again. I don't think my health
could take that."

Cornerback Reggie Austin, wide receiver Omar Jenkins, guard
Brandon Newton, tackle Alan Reuber and linebacker Merrill Robertson
also were released.