NFL suspends Vikings fullback Jerome Felton for first three games
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The Minnesota Vikings will be without Jerome Felton to start the regular season.
The NFL announced it has suspended the fullback for the first three games because of a violation of the league's substance abuse policy.
The Star Tribune, citing an NFL source, reported the suspension was related to a drunken driving charge against Felton that occured in June 2012 in Eden Prairie. Although Felton ended up pleading guilty to a reduced charge of careless driving, according to the newspaper, the league suspended him anyway.
That initial charge against Felton could have been seen as a second offense by the NFL because he had a drunken driving conviction within the past 10 years.
Felton already was expected to miss the rest of the preseason after he underwent an emergency appendectomy on Aug. 14. He is eligible to participate in Thursday's preseason finale against the Tennessee Titans at the Metrodome, but likely won't due to his surgery.
His suspension will begin Aug. 31.
Felton can return to practice on Sept. 23 and will be eligible to return when the Vikings play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 29 in London.
"We respect the league's decision and Jerome understands it," general manager Rick Spielman said in a statement released by the team. "Jerome is focused on returning to the playing field in week four vs. Pittsburgh."
Felton, 27, is guaranteed $2.5 million this season after signing a three-year contract extension in March. He started seven of the 16 regular-season games in which he played last season and also started in the Vikings' playoff game at Green Bay.
Although Felton did not have a rushing attempt and caught only three passes for 35 yards, he still made the Pro Bowl because of the blocking he did for Adrian Peterson. Peterson finished last season with 2,097 yards rushing, leaving him 9 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season record set in 1984.
Undrafted rookie fullback Zach Line has impressed in Felton's absence and has caught touchdown passes of 61 yards and 1 yard. The first came in the Vikings' preseason opener against Houston, a play in which Line did much of the work after his catch, and the second was on Sunday night in San Francisco. Tight end/fullback Rhett Ellison served as Felton's backup last season, but Line's stock certainly spiked with Monday's news.
Line, who is learning the fullback position, was signed by the Vikings out of Southern Methodist. He rushed for 4,185 yards at SMU, the second-most in school history behind Dickerson. The Vikings thought enough of Line that they gave him an $8,000 signing bonus, the largest they handed out this year to an undrafted rookie.
Felton becomes the second Vikings player to be suspended by the NFL this month.
Backup offensive tackle DeMarcus Love was suspended without pay for the first four games of the upcoming season due to a violation of the league's performance enhancing drug policy.