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.
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. He would be eligible to return Oct. 17 at New Orleans.
According to league protocol in such matters, Smith will be able to continue practicing with the team and playing in preseason games.
Smith played in Friday night's preseason game at Atlanta and
declined to comment, as did head coach Mike Tice.
The Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported that the violation
involved using marijuana, while the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported
only that it was a substance abuse violation.
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 after 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.
Smith is the second Vikings player reported to be suspended by
the NFL this season. Defensive end Kenny Mixon is expected to miss
the first two games, barring a last-minute appeal, after being
convicted of drunken driving last spring.
The NFL has not officially announced either Mixon or Smith's punishment. The league typically confirms suspensions after the preseason
League rules prohibit comment from anyone associated with the
team until an official announcement is made, and team spokesman Bob
Hagan had no comment Friday. NFL spokesman Michael Signora also declined to comment Friday. Smith's agent, Douglas Hendrickson, did not immediately return a telephone call from The Associated Press seeking comment Friday.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.