ST. PAUL, Minn. – Suspended Vikings running back Onterrio Smith has been notified by the NFL that he will not be reinstated next month, according to a source close to Smith.
Last May, Smith was suspended one year for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, and he checked himself into a three-month, live-in rehabilitation facility in Massachusetts shortly thereafter.
Smith, 25, did not return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday. The Vikings and the NFL declined comment.
“That falls under the confidentiality provisions of the program,” league spokesman Greg Aiello said. “His status is unchanged in that he continues to be under suspension.”
According to NFL policy, “a player suspended under Stage Three (of the substance abuse policy) may apply formally in writing for reinstatement no sooner than 60 days before his one-year anniversary date of the letter so suspending him.”
The application should include information on the player’s treatment, abstinence from substances, involvement with any substances of abuse-related incidents, and arrests and/ or convictions for any criminal activity.
On April 21, 2005, Smith was stopped at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport possessing the “Original Whizzinator,” a device designed to beat drug tests.
In May, he failed or missed an NFL-mandated drug test, and he was suspended for one year on June 7 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Smith’s history of substance abuse dates to 1999, when he was kicked off the University of Tennessee football team after a positive marijuana test.
In his first public comment since being banned by the league, Smith told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in December that the suspension was a “real wake-up call” that compelled him to do “some real soul searching.”
At the time, he was living in California and helping athletes train for the NFL combine. He was meeting with two different counselors four times a week for upwards of eight hours, he said at the time.
“The suspension saved me from some serious trouble,” Smith said. “It could have been a serious arrest, an accident – anything could have occurred.”
Without Smith as an option, the Vikings could now be looking for more depth at running back. Currently, Chester Taylor, Mewelde Moore, Ciatrick Fason and Adimchinobe Echemandu are the only running backs on the Vikings’ roster.
Taylor was signed as an unrestricted free agent, and the remaining players are carryovers from last season. Moore has been productive for the Vikings when healthy he’s not sidelined with injuries. The Vikings traded their fourth- and fifth-round pick last year to move up eight spots to snag Fason, who scored four touchdowns as the goal line back last season.
The Vikings weren’t counting on Smith, but owner Zygi Wilf said earlier this month that the team was open to giving the running back a chance to return.
Available free agents include Stephen Davis, Anthony Thomas, Jonathan Wells and Lamar Gordon, who played his college football at North Dakota State and last season played for Vikings coach Brad Childress last season in Philadelphia.
The Vikings also could address the position in this weekend’s NFL draft.
“I think it’s a good group of guys,” Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy said in February of the running back class.
After Reggie Bush, who is expected to be selected first overall by the Houston Texans, the next crop of running backs are projected to be taken toward the end of the first round.
Former Gopher Laurence Maroney and DeAngelo Williams of Memphis both visited Winter Park this month and they are considered the second- and third-best running backs in the draft.
“I think he’s the third-best overall,” ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said of Maroney. “It’s between him and Williams, and I gave DeAngelo the edge because he didn’t have a very good line (at Memphis).”
Given the Gophers’ run-oriented offense, there were concerns about Maroney’s pass-catching ability to catch the ball. But he has received positive feedback from NFL scouts since the combine.
LenDale White, Bush’s teammate at Southern California, also is projected as a late first- or early second-round pick.
Later in the second round, players such as Joseph Addai of Louisiana State and Maurice Drew of UCLA are potential options. Both are known for their versatility. Drew was coached by current Vikings running backs coach Eric Bieniemy at UCLA.
(c) 2006, St. Paul Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.).
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