Notebook: Greenway gets tough opening task

Chad Greenway's coverage skills will be put to the test Sunday going against Antonio Gates. Greenway and the Vikings talked about his improvement in coverage. Plus, the coordinators respond to questions about the lack of experience on both lines.

The Vikings' newest rich man, Chad Greenway, will have his skills tested and hands full in his first regular-season game under his new five-year, $40.6 million contract.

Greenway is the Vikings' strongside linebacker, which means he ends up covering opposing tight ends as much as anyone, and his coverage skills will be in demand Sunday in San Diego when he faces Antonio Gates.

"I think Chad has excellent athletic ability. I think that's one of his fortes is coverage," defensive coordinator Fred Pagac said. "I think he does an excellent job of running with people. He has excellent speed and athleticism and that's one of his fortes in his game.

The Vikings have had issues in the past with tight ends being productive, but the last time the Vikings faced the Chargers, Gates was essentially rendered a non-factor. He caught only one pass for 10 yards. Greenway said it was a combination of linebackers and safeties assigned to Gates that day.

During that 2007 matchup, most fans remember Adrian Peterson's record-setting 296-yard day rushing the ball, but the defense was also a big part of that win. In addition to limiting a prolific NFL tight end, the defense held the Chargers to only a 25-percent conversion rate on third downs.

If they are to experience that type of success again on Sunday against the top-ranked offense from last year, Greenway's ability to limit Gates will have to be a part of it

"It really will be. There will be times where he'll be matched up on one of the best tight ends in the NFL in Gates. He did a good job when we played them a few years ago, and where he has matured is in his ability to use his hands and work his feet at the same time," said head coach Leslie Frazier, Greenway's defensive coordinator for the previous three years. "There was a time early on where he really struggled with getting his balance when he was in man coverage and he's done a much better job of utilizing his hands.

"He's always been a good athlete and been able to run with most tight ends, but the other part was being able to jam a guy and then get in position to cover a guy and he's really improved in that area and that's one of the reasons we're excited about the fact that he never has to come off of the field on defense."

While 2006 was officially Greenway's rookie season, he blew out his anterior cruciate ligament on his third play in the preseason. The following year was when he was able to start displaying his athletic skills, even if they were hindered a bit during his recovery from knee surgery.

Asked about his improvement with his balance, Greenway had a quick and logical response.

"You ever had an ACL [tear] before? It just makes it a little harder to come back and have all the faculties like that," he said. "It does take you a little time to get the experience back and have you in the game and people coming from different angles and trying to break it downhill and different things – just be good in coverage. It's knowing what you're doing and knowing where you're going. But [also] to make the play once it comes."

These days, Greenway is one of the Vikings' top playmakers. He has led the team in tackles each of the last three years and his ability to cover tight ends has improved. Along with that, so has his confidence, according to middle linebacker E.J. Henderson.

"I'm pretty sure he knows he can cover any tight end in this league," Henderson said. "The ability to play off that tight end and make a play on the ball, he's improved on that."

Gates missed six games last year, but since 2004 he still hasn't had a season with fewer than 50 catches, 700 yards or eight touchdowns. He is simply one of the most dangerous and productive tight ends in the game.

"Definitely a crafty veteran, some good moves off the press. Some good moves on one-on-one coverage," Henderson said. "We have to be on our game and keep our eye on him."

BIG CHANGES ON DEFENSE

Three-fourths of the Vikings' starting defensive line will be new when they open the season Sunday. Gone are left end Ray Edwards and nose tackle Pat Williams, and defensive tackle Kevin Williams is serving a two-game suspension. That leaves Brian Robison taking over at left end, Remi Ayodele as the new starter at nose tackle, and Letroy Guion filling in at defensive tackle.

Only right end Jared Allen begins the season as an incumbent starter on the Vikings' defensive line. No problem, says Pagac.

"To be honest with you, it's like if someone got hurt, someone has to step up," Pagac said. "They're on the team. They're Vikings. I'm expecting Letroy Guion to play lights out, I'm expecting Remi to play lights out, I'm expecting Fred Evans to play lights out. They are part of the Vikings and they are part of our mantra right now. This is 2011, it's not 2010."

YOUTH ON OTHER LINE

Likewise, the Vikings have a young cast of backup offensive linemen.

Seth Olsen, Jon Cooper and Brandon Fusco are the backup interior offensive linemen, and DeMarcus Love and Pat Brown are handling the backup duties at tackle. Between the five of them, they have four years of NFL experience. Fusco and Love are rookies, Olsen was on the practice squad the entire 2010 season, Brown was on the 53-man roster for the final five games last year but didn't play, and Cooper has been a backup for the past two seasons.

The Vikings elected to go young with the depth of the offensive line, but they downplayed concerns there, too.

"No concern. We wouldn't have kept anybody on the team if we weren't confident of putting them in the game," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. "We have a good 53-man roster. We consider every one of our guys starters."


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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During that 2007 matchup, most fans remember Adrian Peterson's record-setting 296-yard day rushing the ball, but the defense was also a big part of that win. In addition to limiting a prolific NFL tight end, the defense held the Chargers to only a 25-percent conversion rate on third downs. If they are to experience that type of success again on Sunday against the top-ranked offense from last year, Greenway's ability to limit Gates will have to be a part of it \"It really will be. There will be times where he'll be matched up on one of the best tight ends in the NFL in Gates. He did a good job when we played them a few years ago, and where he has matured is in his ability to use his hands and work his feet at the same time,\" said head coach Leslie Frazier, Greenway's defensive coordinator for the previous three years. \"There was a time early on where he really struggled with getting his balance when he was in man coverage and he's done a much better job of utilizing his hands. \"He's always been a good athlete and been able to run with most tight ends, but the other part was being able to jam a guy and then get in position to cover a guy and he's really improved in that area and that's one of the reasons we're excited about the fact that he never has to come off of the field on defense.\" While 2006 was officially Greenway's rookie season, he blew out his anterior cruciate ligament on his third play in the preseason. The following year was when he was able to start displaying his athletic skills, even if they were hindered a bit during his recovery from knee surgery. Asked about his improvement with his balance, Greenway had a quick and logical response. \"You ever had an ACL [tear] before? It just makes it a little harder to come back and have all the faculties like that,\" he said. \"It does take you a little time to get the experience back and have you in the game and people coming from different angles and trying to break it downhill and different things – just be good in coverage. It's knowing what you're doing and knowing where you're going. But [also] to make the play once it comes.\" These days, Greenway is one of the Vikings' top playmakers. He has led the team in tackles each of the last three years and his ability to cover tight ends has improved. Along with that, so has his confidence, according to middle linebacker E.J. 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Fusco and Love are rookies, Olsen was on the practice squad the entire 2010 season, Brown was on the 53-man roster for the final five games last year but didn't play, and Cooper has been a backup for the past two seasons. The Vikings elected to go young with the depth of the offensive line, but they downplayed concerns there, too. \"No concern. We wouldn't have kept anybody on the team if we weren't confident of putting them in the game,\" offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. \"We have a good 53-man roster. 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