Greene's Heart, Passion Show As Walden Stars

Kevin Greene had never been a coach until last year, but you wouldn't know it with the job he's done. His latest stroke of coaching genius is Erik Walden, who went from street free agent to player of the week to a key part of the plan to slow Michael Vick.

As the shampoo commercial goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

And Kevin Greene's first impression was lasting.

As a player, Greene was a blond-haired maniac who finished his career with more sacks than any linebacker in NFL history. His personality made him a natural as a professional wrestler.

Outside of some coaching internships, Greene had never coached at any level before the Packers hired him to join defensive coordinator Dom Caperss staff in 2009. His passion for the game was clear, but in interviews, his stream of clichés about heart and desire and love begged the question: Could the guy coach?

The answer: an overwhelming yes.

As a rookie coach, Greene turned seventh-round rookie Brad Jones into a solid starter after veteran Aaron Kampman suffered a season-ending knee injury.

This year, it's been a revolving door. Jones was the starter with veteran Brady Poppinga in reserve, but both players landed on injured reserve in late October. No worries. Greene turned to undrafted rookie Frank Zombo and the defense didn't miss a beat. And when Zombo was sidelined with a knee sprain, Greene plugged in midseason acquisition Erik Walden. Then Walden was wounded, meaning Robert Francois — who had been cut and signed by the Packers enough times that the transaction is stored as a cut-and-paste key on general manager Ted Thompson's computer — got a start.

Really, it didn't matter who was in the lineup. From Jones to Zombo to Walden, there never was a drop-off.

"I think I've been blessed," said Greene, though quite the opposite could be argued in terms of sheer talent and stability. "I've been blessed and I've got some good kids who are very conscious about how they play and some kids who want to learn and listen. I was talking about pouring myself into a player as a coach: The player really has to be receptive to that as opposed to being resistant. If a player is receptive to what I have to say and how to play certain things and how I think it needs to be played, generally, if they listen, they'll see it works for them."

Greene's crowning moment last week. With the season on the line in a must-win game against Chicago, Walden wasn't just in the starting lineup. He wasn't just manning a position because, well, someone had to be out there. No, Walden was a featured player on Greene's advice, serving as a spy to limit athletic quarterback Jay Cutler's running lanes.

"Coaching him the last two months, I've seen the explosive-bility about him, I've seen his athleticism, I've seen his desire and his passion, I've seen his work ethic," Greene said on Friday. "I suggested to Dom, let's let Clay (Matthews) go ahead and do his thing and let's try and see if Erik can do this — I think Erik will be able to do this. Coach Dom, he concurred and gave him the opportunity and put him in that position and he was able to do some good things. That spy sack, he was playing with his heart. He was all over because he wanted to be all over, follow what I'm saying?"


Erik Walden
Tom Dahlin/Getty Images
It's a stunning story, really. When Walden was released after Miami's Week 3 game, it marked the fourth time he had been released since being a sixth-round draft pick by Dallas in 2008. For more than a month, Walden was out of the league.

Signed with fellow outside linebacker Diyral Briggs when Jones and Poppinga were put on injured reserve, Walden and Briggs spent night after night cramming with Greene. Every night, Greene would install a section of the playbook, just like how the team installs the playbook during organized team activities and training camp. Every few days, Greene would review what had been learned.

Greene didn't know a thing about Walden until about 10 weeks ago. Fortunately, both men proved to be quick studies. Walden picked up the playbook remarkably quickly and Greene figured out that Walden had some untapped potential.

"I think you try to treat every kid the same," Greene said. "You pour yourself into that kid. You give that kid the best you have and then you see what it takes. I'm not a seasoned, grizzled, veteran coach. I'm just doing what I think needs to be done, and what I think needs to be done is you put yourself in that kid the best you can — all your love, all your passion, all your heart, everything you know about this position and everything you've learned about this defense. If they listen and they're a smart kid and want to be a student of the game, all that you put of yourself, it takes (hold). Hopefully, he can make plays and help this team win games."

Could Walden make a play? All he did was tally three sacks and 16 tackles against Chicago. Walden, who didn't have a sack in his 36-game career before the contest, wound up being named NFC defensive player of the week.

And now, the Packers' playoff fate might very well rest on Walden. With the success Walden had spying Cutler, it's almost a given that he'll reprise that role in some fashion on Sunday against Philadelphia's Michael Vick.

With Greene in Walden's corner, who's to say that the street free agent won't keep the living legend in check and help punch the Packers' ticket to the divisional round at Atlanta next weekend?

"I knew he was one of the top sack leaders and a pass rushing specialist," Walden said. "I really didn't know his coaching style or what kind of person he was. Once I got here, he's a cool dude, man. Nice guy. He's able to relate to us because he has so much to say because of his experience. Learning from a guy like that has been tremendous. I feel like with him coaching me, my career is going to be on the rise."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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