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Green Might Not Want Rookie

Coach Dennis Green believes in second chances, just maybe not for Dimitrius Underwood.

The first-round draft pick who went AWOL after his first pro practice on Aug. 2 decided after a 75-minute phone conversation with Reggie White that he wanted to try to balance faith and football.

Underwood flew to Minneapolis Tuesday and was met by Minnesota Vikings scout Jeff Robinson and team chaplain Keith Johnson, who planned to accompany the 22-year-old rookie back to training camp to meet with Green, who will decide his fate.

A news conference scheduled for Tuesday night at the Vikings headquarters in Eden Prairie was postponed until Wednesday because "one of the parties is arriving late," team spokesman Bob Hagan said.

Hagan declined to say if that party was Underwood's agent, Craig Domann, who was traveling Tuesday and didn't immediately return a phone message.

Green insisted Underwood's strange case and its salary cap ramifications won't alter the organization's risk-taking philosophy, a principle that reaped huge rewards in wide receiver Randy Moss last season.

"You don't second-guess yourself," Green said. "We have always been involved in second chances. That's part of our way we do business."

"So we're not going to change how we do business and how we look at things because of one time. We believe in what we do."

That doesn't necessarily mean the welcome mat is out for Underwood.

"I've not said what we would do with Dimitrius Underwood if he were to come back, and I'm not going to say it now," Green said.

Underwood, the 29th pick in the NFL draft out of Michigan State, where he missed his senior season with an ankle injury, left the Vikings without explanation one day after signing a five-year, $5.3 million contract.

He hitched an 80-mile ride to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport and apologetically told his agent the next day that he'd had to tend to a family crisis and was on his way back to the team.

But he didn't return, didn't call anybody, and his whereabouts were unknown.

A reporter from the Star Tribune of Minneapolis finally tracked him down over the weekend in a Philadelphia hotel lobby, where Underwood, with $6 to his name, said he'd been torn between his faith in God and a career in professional football.

After speaking at length with White, a minister and the NFL's career sacks leader who retired from the Green Bay Packers this winter, Underwood said he'd decided to return to the Vikings and ask for Green's forgiveness.

But Underwood didn't return to camp Monday night or for Tuesday's practice.

Green was in no mood to talk about Underwood during his morning media session, saying he had no update. When a reporter tried to ask again about the perplexing pass rusher, Green snapped: "Come on. I just answered the question. I'm not interested in anything else on Dimitrius."

White told The Associated Press that, while he preferred to keep his conversation with Underwood private, he felt the troubled rookie needed to get in touch with Green "and explain what he was going through because one thing he's done is left Denny hanging."

White said he understands the trepidations both men must have about a reunion, but whatever Green decides regarding Underwood's playing status, "it's a legitimate decision."

"If I could talk to Dimitrius again, I'd tell him, `Call Denny. Have a long talk with him and assure him this won't happen again.' Say, `I'm ready to play and ready to use my talent to help the team win and, in the process of that, find out who I really am,"' White said.

And should he return to the Vikings, White added that Underwood should seek spiritual guidance from teammates Randall Cunningham and Cris Carter.

Last week, the Vikings began exploring ways to part company with Underwood, weighing the financial risk and resulting litigation and appeals.

Underwood received a partially deferred signing bonus of $1,725,000. He got about $543,000 after taxes, but most of that was frozen indefinitely in his Milwaukee bank after his disappearance.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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