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Vikings release RB Onterrio Smith

MINNEAPOLIS (April 26, 2006) -- Onterrio Smith proclaimed himself the "Steal of the Draft" after Minnesota picked him in the fourth round out of the University of Oregon in 2003.

Three years later, it's clear why he didn't go any higher.

The Vikings released Smith with at least six weeks left on his one-year suspension for violating league drug policy -- ultimately deciding there was too much trouble in his past to wait for, let alone welcome back, the talented 25-year-old runner.

"We've decided to terminate Onterrio Smith's contract ahead of this weekend's college draft. We wish him well in his future endeavors," coach Brad Childress said in a statement released by the team less than two hours after a predraft news conference.

Asked at that news conference about Smith's status, Childress declined comment, citing the confidentiality of the NFL's substance-abuse program.

The move signaled the end of a memorable saga.

It started with Smith -- who was dismissed from the University of Tennessee in 2000 for marijuana use -- becoming Minnesota's featured running back down the stretch of his first season.

He set a franchise rookie record for rushing attempts and total yardage with 148 yards on 27 carries in a game against the Chicago Bears. After finishing with 579 yards, five touchdowns and an average of 5.4 yards per attempt in 2003, Smith served a four-game suspension in 2004 and still led the Vikings in rushing that year with 544 yards. He added 394 yards receiving.

He had a legitimate chance to be the starting back last season until his drug problems resurfaced. In May, Smith was infamously caught at the Minneapolis airport with "The Original Whizzinator" -- a device designed to beat drug tests including a fake penis and several vials of dried urine -- when his bag was scanned by security.

Smith claimed the kit was for his cousin, and he wasn't charged by police. Mere possession of the device is not enough to break league rules.

But less than one month later, Smith received his latest suspension for a third violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

League spokesman Greg Aiello, also citing confidentiality issues, declined comment specifically about Smith, whose suspension was originally scheduled to end June 7. A denial of his reinstatement application, however, wouldn't be made public by the NFL, so it's possible for Smith's ban to continue indefinitely until the commissioner clears him to return.

Smith's agent, Doug Hendrickson, didn't return multiple messages left by The Associated Press.

Childress acknowledged that Smith's status would affect how the Vikings view running backs in the draft, and with five of the first 95 picks, they'll have several chances to take one April 29.

Chester Taylor, Mewelde Moore and Ciatrick Fason are the leading returners for Minnesota at a position with little proven depth.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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