Greenway learning tough business of NFL

Chad Greenway's role has shifted to veteran leader after losing the players that mentored him. Despite E.J. Henderson and Ben Leber no longer being teammates, they are still dear friends to Greenway, who is adjusting with the reality of the NFL.

Few players on the current Vikings roster have the experience with the franchise as Chad Greenway. Following the Love Boat debacle in 2005, owner Zygi Wilf demanded that the organization get "cleaned up" and that the focus be as much on character as on-field ability. To that end, he hired Brad Childress to be the head coach to get that process kick-started. Childress' first major acquisition was to draft Greenway in the first round of the 2006 draft.

When Greenway arrived to the Vikings, he was the new kid in a defense that was laden with veterans, especially at linebacker. E.J. Henderson had already established himself, Napoleon Harris was entrenched in the middle and the team had signed San Diego linebacker Ben Leber to patrol the outside. Greenway was the only guy without tangible experience.

His career got off to a dismal start. In the first quarter of his first preseason game, while playing on special teams, Greenway tore his left ACL and was lost for the season. While he wasn't playing as a rookie, he forged friendships with Henderson and Leber that have grown stronger over the years. But, as is the circle of life of NFL players, all good things must come to an end. Leber wasn't re-signed following the 2010 season and Henderson remains an unrestricted free agent who has yet to hook on with another team.

In a short span of time, Greenway has gone from being one of the young guns on the defense to one of the grizzled veterans. The combination of talent and experience has made him a team leader and he has relished the chance to be viewed as one of the faces of the franchise.

"It's been a pretty natural transition," Greenway said. "When I came in, Ben and E.J. had already established themselves and I learned the right way to do things from them. They were both excellent in helping me find my way, and now that I'm in my seventh year I'm trying to do the same with some of the younger guys here. You have to be a leader when you're a veteran guy and they helped make that transition a lot easier."

Greenway said he still keeps in regular contact with Henderson and said that he expects his phone to ring at some point when a team needs a veteran leader in the middle of their defense. While he hopes it isn't a division rival that signs Henderson, he fully expects to see him playing somewhere in the NFL this season.

"He's hoping he's going to get a call here in the next few weeks," Greenway said. "He knows that he's had some injuries and a tough last couple of years, but he knows he can still play and wants to get that opportunity. He wants to get that 10th year in and I hope he gets there."

The decision by the Vikings to let both Henderson and Leber go has shifted the focus of the linebacker corps immensely. Erin Henderson, an undrafted free agent many thought was brought in merely because he was E.J.'s brother and came from a strong bloodline, replaced Leber. If Jasper Brinkley can stay healthy, he is expected to replace E.J. at middle linebacker. Greenway has become a leader of the linebackers as much by attrition as by skill and he said those types of decisions at the top of the organization have showed him how quickly the paradigm can shift in the NFL.

"The scope of our team has changed so much in the last couple of years," Greenway said. "That's what happens in the NFL. Rosters shift and the entire makeup of a team can change almost overnight – or at least from one year to the next. It just sort of happens. You go from being one of the younger guys to a veteran leader. When you hit year five or year six, you start to realize it. You accept your leadership role because you've been around so long and seen so many players come and go. The NFL is constantly a moving thing and it's fluid. It's a pretty big change we've had with all the new faces, but if we're going to get where we want to be, change is needed."

Greenway's journey from being the new kid on the block to being one of the older players on the defensive roster has been an eye-opener to the inner workings of the NFL. Decisions are made that are beyond the control of players, and friendships that have bonded through the birth of their children and activities away from the game (hunting, fishing, etc.) don't factor in. It has taught Greenway some hard lessons about life in the NFL and he realizes that somewhere down the line his number will come up and the franchise will move on without him.

"This is a hard business," Greenway said. "You meet these guys because of the same business decisions that eventually takes them away. It's just the business you're in. At any point, it can change. Leber, for example, I hoped that he would have stayed because he was one of my best friends on the team. I played with him for five years and we got really close. But that's the business. Eventually that's going to be me. The game keeps moving on. There are constantly new guys coming along that are extremely talented and have big-time ability. You try to keep fighting for your spot because you never know when you're going to be the one who gets replaced."

For a team in flux that has a lot of question marks as to who will comprise the 2012 roster, one certainty is that Greenway will be on the field as a defensive leader. After missing his rookie season, he has played all 80 games over the last five years and has cemented his legacy with the franchise. He's made a smooth transition from being one of the players the team pinned its hopes on to one of the most game-tested players on the roster. His role has shifted from being a hungry young talent to be a mentor to the next generation of Vikings players – a role he takes seriously and puts his heart into.

"All the changes that have been the last couple of years have been done to set this team up to win – now and in the future," Greenway said. "We went through that early in my career. We made steady progress and got to the point where we were close to a Super Bowl. Things have changed, but that's the goal again – get better with each game and each year and get the Vikings back to the top. I'm looking forward to that challenge and being a part of bringing the Vikings back to the top."


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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In the first quarter of his first preseason game, while playing on special teams, Greenway tore his left ACL and was lost for the season. While he wasn't playing as a rookie, he forged friendships with Henderson and Leber that have grown stronger over the years. But, as is the circle of life of NFL players, all good things must come to an end. Leber wasn't re-signed following the 2010 season and Henderson remains an unrestricted free agent who has yet to hook on with another team. In a short span of time, Greenway has gone from being one of the young guns on the defense to one of the grizzled veterans. The combination of talent and experience has made him a team leader and he has relished the chance to be viewed as one of the faces of the franchise. \"It's been a pretty natural transition,\" Greenway said. \"When I came in, Ben and E.J. had already established themselves and I learned the right way to do things from them. They were both excellent in helping me find my way, and now that I'm in my seventh year I'm trying to do the same with some of the younger guys here. You have to be a leader when you're a veteran guy and they helped make that transition a lot easier.\" Greenway said he still keeps in regular contact with Henderson and said that he expects his phone to ring at some point when a team needs a veteran leader in the middle of their defense. While he hopes it isn't a division rival that signs Henderson, he fully expects to see him playing somewhere in the NFL this season. \"He's hoping he's going to get a call here in the next few weeks,\" Greenway said. \"He knows that he's had some injuries and a tough last couple of years, but he knows he can still play and wants to get that opportunity. He wants to get that 10th year in and I hope he gets there.\" The decision by the Vikings to let both Henderson and Leber go has shifted the focus of the linebacker corps immensely. Erin Henderson, an undrafted free agent many thought was brought in merely because he was E.J.'s brother and came from a strong bloodline, replaced Leber. If Jasper Brinkley can stay healthy, he is expected to replace E.J. at middle linebacker. Greenway has become a leader of the linebackers as much by attrition as by skill and he said those types of decisions at the top of the organization have showed him how quickly the paradigm can shift in the NFL. \"The scope of our team has changed so much in the last couple of years,\" Greenway said. \"That's what happens in the NFL. Rosters shift and the entire makeup of a team can change almost overnight – or at least from one year to the next. It just sort of happens. You go from being one of the younger guys to a veteran leader. When you hit year five or year six, you start to realize it. You accept your leadership role because you've been around so long and seen so many players come and go. 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