The Chicago Bears defense was dealt a heavy blow last week losing Lance Briggs for at least the next month with a shoulder injury. The club loses a seven-time Pro Bowler, as well as the leader and primary play caller on defense.
But the games must go on, so in steps fourth-round rookie Khaseem Greene to replace Briggs at weak-side linebacker. It's tough for any first-year player to come in as a starter in place of an established veteran but for Greene, the stage of his first-ever start couldn't be any more daunting: on the road at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football, with first place in the NFC North on the line.
It doesn't get any bigger than that.
Greene sits down with Bear Report to discuss tonight's huge contest.
"This is going to be an experience. I'm definitely excited about this upcoming game. Traditional grounds up there. Legendary grounds, really. It'll be good and I can't wait to see for myself. I've been studying up and I know all about the history of this rivalry but I understand that until I am in the game myself, I won't understand it completely.
"It's been a busy week here at Halas Hall. You could tell by the energy and enthusiasm during practice that everybody was rested and ready to go again. In that sense the timing of this game is good. We've had some time to get away from football so maybe it will help us get a new fresher perspective. I know that I feel re-energized.
"As a rookie, any time you don't have regular practice, it doesn't mean your job is done. I've taken plenty of time during the break to study film and analyze what I've been doing right and also what needs improvement. Unfortunately, at this stage of my career, the list of things I need to do better is longer than the things I am executing correctly. I'm patient though and I know these skills will come with time and experience.
"It's been tough having so many injuries to our starters but I've heard that at this point in the season, playing at this level, it's bound to happen. What makes the difference is how you handle the adversity that comes. If you can step up and step in, things should go well.
"Lance is with us all of the time, coaching us from the sidelines and telling us what he's thinking when we're in meetings. It's invaluable to have somebody like that educating you. He's given us some insight into what it's like to play at Green Bay, what to expect from the fans, that kind of thing. The main thing he's telling us to do is to focus on the job and forget all the distraction.
"I don't know for sure what the coaches have in mind for me for this game. If I am fortunate enough to start, then I'll definitely give it 110 percent. If I am not the starter, I'll come in as needed and work hard. My role should be more clearly defined as we get closer to game time."
What do you bring to the defense?
"I'm fast and my technique is definitely improving."
What do you need to work on?
"Everything. I'm much more comfortable on the field in a game situation now than I was two months ago. I can see big progress there. I think my reaction time is better. I don't stand there thinking about what I am going to do. When the ball is snapped, I move.
"What I've come to understand is that all I have to do is my job. At the end of the day, that's all that matters. I'm accountable to my teammates and that is what I focus on."
Do you feel more pressure in this role, especially on such a big stage?
"I'd say yes and no. Of course there is pressure to perform well but that's always the case. But the vets are with us on the sidelines helping us along. Their advice in the heat of battle is invaluable. I think that is the unusual thing about this team. We're always supporting each other. It makes a difference in your comfort level as a rookie.
"Green Bay is a good team, a really good team. They do everything well. Most of those guys have been together for a long time. That makes a difference in communication on and off the field.
"I know a lot of my friends will be watching this game. My family definitely will be watching. I went back for homecoming this past weekend so we all touched base. We were talking about how it was only a year ago when we were all on the couch watching Monday Night Football. Pretty cool to be here now."
Do you pay attention to the media coverage on you and the defense?
"I might check in now and then after a game is over but I never watch sports reports or read articles pertaining to an upcoming game I'm in. It doesn't matter what they think. All of it is just somebody's opinion.
"Every part of my game is changing every day. That's the only way you can improve. If I don't see something I do getting better, I'm immediately concerned. As a rookie you need to demonstrate constant progress. Lance has made a tremendous difference in my game. He's my coach, always offering suggestions. When something happens on the field, I know he'll be coming around telling me what he thinks. His values, his opinions are incredibly valuable. It's great to have input like that."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.