posted on Aug, 20 2004 @ 08:43 AM
Second-year running back Onterrio Smith, expected to assume some of the Minnesota Vikings' running game workload from starter Michael Bennett, faces a
league-mandated four-game suspension for a repeat violation of its substance abuse policy, NFL and team officials confirmed Thursday night.
The Vikings have been notified of the suspension, but the sanction cannot be enacted until the appeals process is completed. If an appeal is
unsuccessful, Smith likely will miss the first four games of the regular season and forfeit $71,765 of his scheduled $305,000 salary.
According to league protocol in such matters, Smith will be able to continue practicing with the team and playing in preseason games. Minnesota plays
at Atlanta on Friday, its second preseason game.
It is uncertain when the violation occurred, but the fact Smith is subject to suspension means he has violated the policy twice, possibly three times.
One source hinted that Smith may have entered the NFL in phase one of the program because of off-field problems in his college career.
Those problems were one reason Smith transferred to Oregon following the 1999 season, after starting his career at Tennessee. At Oregon, he was a
two-time all-Pac 10 player and finished with 2,388 rushing yards.
Smith, 23, dropped into the fourth round of the 2003 draft before the Vikings finally put an end to his free-fall. Certainly his draft stock slipped
in large part because of the off-field issues.
As a rookie, Smith appeared in 15 games and started three times, carrying 107 times for 579 yards and five touchdowns. He was the Vikings'
second-leading rusher and his 5.4-yard average was the best among Minnesota running backs.
With former Pro Bowl performer Bennett coming off a foot injury that limited him to just eight games in 2003, Smith, a slashing tailback with great
balance and vision, was likely to have his playing time increased in 2004.