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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Tice pulled aside his newest defensive lineman and told him, ''If anybody asks, you're playing inside.'' Brock Lesnar nodded. He is fine with that. He doesn't care where he lines up. He just wants the chance to play in the NFL.
Tice is giving it to him.
In the pro wrestling world, he was anointed "The Next Big Thing." Now, as he begins a totally new career, nobody is calling him anything but a long shot. Lesnar hasn't played football since high school and is as raw as they come, but there is something about this former champion of wrestling that intrigues Tice.
''He's a project, but he's as strong as an ox,'' Tice said. ''He's perfect for the practice squad, and then we can send him to Europe [to play in NFL Europe].''
Lesnar signed a contract Tuesday with the Vikings for the league minimum of $230,000, but he gets that only if he makes the final roster, which would be stunning. But Lesnar has been stunning people most of his life, and he may just do it again.
He is a farm boy from Webster, S.D. Before he was 5, he had two hernias, because he had a hankering to pick up heavy things. At the age of 4, he was hefting a truck tire. As a sophomore in high school, he lifted a four-door Chevy off the ground. He went to the University of Minnesota and kept lifting, hefting an NCAA heavyweight wrestling trophy in 2000.
After college, Lesnar thought about wrestling in the Olympics or trying out for the NFL. But he decided on something else-pro wrestling. After just two years of body slams and bravado, he beat The Rock to become the youngest World Wrestling Entertainment champ ever at the age of 26.
Now, just months after deciding he had accomplished all he wanted in pro wrestling, he is just another rookie free agent. Instead of the league minimum salary, it's more likely Lesnar will receive the $73,000 that goes to players on the practice squad - where teams stock players with potential and uncertain futures. An agreement came together Tuesday soon after he was put through a rigorous 45-minute workout designed to test a groin injury he suffered in an April motorcycle accident.
Lesnar worked out for the Vikings in June, but the injury hampered him. Tice admitted he was tilting toward signing Lesnar after that workout, but he wanted another look, just to be sure. Just so there's no confusion: This is not a gimmick. Many people thought it was when Lesnar announced he was retiring from pro wrestling to give pro football a try.
He tried showing people he was serious by the way he handled his transition from pro wrestler to wannabe NFL player. Vince McMahon, who runs the WWE, wanted to make a splashy announcement that Lesnar was quitting the ring to play pro football. Lesnar wanted no part of that.
Instead, Lesnar went to Tempe, Ariz., where he spent nearly three months in an elite athletic performance program designed to prepare him for football.
The original plan was to have NFL teams watch Lesnar work out in Tempe. That changed when he was injured in the motorcycle accident. He was supposed to visit several teams, but only the Vikings and Baltimore Ravens put him through drills. Other teams were interested, but the groin injury kept him from working out for them.
''His main focus was the Vikings,'' said Ed Hitchcock, Lesnar's other representative. ''We knew we'd get another opportunity to work out for them.''
Tice wants Lesnar to learn the same tackle position Chris Hovan plays. Hovan, by the way, has been friends with Lesnar for several years and will tutor him.
Told that having the WWE's former champion in camp will create a huge stir from fans and the media, Tice laughed and said, ''I've got Randy Moss. Do I need attention? I've got Chris Hovan. Do I need attention?''