RUNNING BACK BATTLE
Though giving Michael Bennett the edge, Tice has declared the starting running back job open, leaving Bennett, Onterrio Smith and Mewelde Moore to fight for time _ beginning with minicamp in late April. Veteran Moe Williams is still around, too.
But Tice, speaking at the league meetings, said it's unlikely the Vikings will trade one of them.
"I've talked to the kids, and this is how it has to be," he said. "All three have tremendous talent. Obviously, Moe Williams always has a role and will continue to have it until he decides not to play anymore. He knows that.
"Michael is the most explosive, but Mike's had a couple bad nicks the past two years. Just when it looks like he's taking his game to the next level, sprained ACL. Onterrio's had some nicks, too. And Mewelde is just a young, gifted talent who is probably the most versatile. All three young men have to have what anyone asks in life, which is the opportunity to be the guy.
"My philosophy -- when a guy steps up and emerges as the guy, he is the guy. When he wants to play, he'll play. When we feel like he needs a break, he'll come out. Most running backs are pretty good about taking themselves out. The second guy will be the spell guy. The third guy? He won't be happy. That's just the way it's got to be."
The team didn't announce it, but backup center and guard Cory Withrow signed a one-year contract last week including incentives and a $50,000 bonus, agent Joe Linta said. Withrow recently switched agents from Chris Murray to Linta, giving the Connecticut-based Linta five Vikings offensive linemen as clients. He also works for Matt Birk, Mike Rosenthal, Adam Goldberg and Brandon Newton.