[size=18px]Vikings' semi truck revving his engine for camp[/size]
All of a sudden, a huge smile creased the face of Vikings running back Michael Bennett. He had just been asked to talk about one of his favorite topics: a healthy Jim Kleinsasser.
"Having him is like having a semi truck run through some bowling pins,' Bennett said. "It's great having him back. It's going to be unreal.'
Bennett had a faraway look. He was imagining what it will be like to have Kleinsasser in front of him on a sweep again, mowing down defensive players.
"Oh my goodness, it's scary,' Bennett said. "I can't wait.'
Just minutes after Bennett gushed, Kleinsasser walked out of the training room, a place he has spent far too much time.
Since joining the Vikings as a second-round pick in 1999, Kleinsasser has missed games due to injuries to several body parts, including an ankle, a hamstring, a shoulder, a tibia and a knee. His most recent setback was a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
With that history of mangled limbs, Kleinsasser was asked two questions when he emerged from the training room after Friday's developmental camp: Are you hurt? Again?
"No, no, no,' he said. "Nothing's wrong. I was just icing my knee. I do it every day.'
He rubbed his hand over his knee. The scar a surgeon left after repairing his ACL is barely visible.
"Right now, it gets fatigued after a while,' Kleinsasser said. "I just want to get back to a hundred percent.'
He expects to reach that by the start of training camp in July. If he does, Bennett and the Vikings' other backs will be delighted. The status of Kleinsasser's knee could be the most important factor that determines whether the Vikings have a hugely successful running game.
In 2003, Kleinsasser started all 16 games and the Vikings had the NFL's No. 1 rushing attack. Last season, he went down in the first game and the Vikings finished 18th in rushing. There is a correlation.
"There are some very good blocking tight ends,' Vikings coach Mike Tice said. "I haven't seen one as strong as Jimmy at the point of attack.'
Tice wants to be more run-oriented this season, and that becomes easier if Kleinsasser is turning defensive players into mulch.
"Our outside running game is night and day with Jimmy out there,' Tice said.
Kleinsasser is itching to get out there. When the season begins, he will have multiple roles. On any given play, he might line up at tight end, H-back or fullback. Once known for dropped passes, he improved as a receiver in 2003 and had a career-high 46 catches. But his value to the team isn't his hands. It's the entire 6-foot-3, 275-pound package that he flings at a defender.
"I don't get hung up about catching the ball,' Kleinsasser said. "I like drilling a guy.'
Although he anticipates his knee being fine when the season begins, he's looking forward to that first drilling as confirmation that he's as good as ever.
"The biggest thing is going to be taking that first hit and when I get in a crowded area of traffic,' Kleinsasser said. "I just want to get out there and get my sanity back.'
Even though 2003 was the only time he stayed healthy enough to play an entire season, Kleinsasser doesn't believe he's injury prone.
"When you get hurt,' he said, "a lot of it is good luck and bad luck.'
He's due for some good luck.