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Vikings release suspended running back Smith

MINNEAPOLIS -- Onterrio Smith proclaimed himself the "Steal
of the Draft" after Minnesota picked him in the fourth round out
of the University of Oregon in 2003.

Three years later, it's clear why he didn't go any higher.

The Vikings released Smith on Wednesday with at least six weeks
left on his one-year suspension for violating league drug policy --
ultimately deciding there was too much trouble in his past to wait
for, let alone welcome back, the talented 25-year-old runner.

"We've decided to terminate Onterrio Smith's contract ahead of
this weekend's college draft. We wish him well in his future
endeavors," coach Brad Childress said in a statement released by
the team less than two hours after a predraft news conference.

Asked at that news conference about Smith's status, Childress
declined to comment, citing the confidentiality of the NFL's
substance abuse program.

The move signaled the end of a memorable saga.

It started with Smith -- who was dismissed from the University of
Tennessee in 2000 for marijuana use -- becoming Minnesota's featured
running back down the stretch of his first season.

He set a franchise rookie record for rushing attempts and total
yardage with 148 yards on 27 carries in a game against the Chicago
Bears. After finishing with 579 yards, five touchdowns and an
average of 5.4 yards per attempt in 2003, Smith served a four-game
suspension in 2004 and still led the Vikings in rushing that year
with 544 yards and added 394 yards receiving.

He had a legitimate chance to be the starting back last season
until his drug problems resurfaced. In May, Smith was infamously
caught at the Minneapolis airport with "The Original Whizzinator"
-- a device designed to beat drug tests including a fake penis and
several vials of dried urine -- when his bag was scanned by
security.

Smith claimed the kit was for his cousin, and he wasn't charged
by police. Mere possession of the device is not enough to break
league rules.

But less than one month later, Smith received his latest
suspension for a third violation of the NFL's substance abuse
policy.

League spokesman Greg Aiello, also citing confidentiality
issues, declined to comment specifically about Smith -- whose
suspension was originally scheduled to end June 7. A denial of his
reinstatement application, however, won't be made public by the
NFL, so it's possible for Smith's ban to continue indefinitely
until the commissioner clears him to return.

Smith's agent, Doug Hendrickson, didn't return multiple messages
left Wednesday.

Childress acknowledged that Smith's status would affect how the
Vikings view running backs in the draft, and with five of the first
95 picks they'll have several chances to take one on Saturday.

Chester Taylor, Mewelde Moore and Ciatrick Fason are the leading
returners for Minnesota at a position with little proven depth.