Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway has been a lot of things in his NFL career. Since being the first-round pick of the Vikings in 2006, Greenway has consistently been the team’s leading tackler, but he’s taking on a new role this season – the grand old man of the defense.
Only long snapper Cullen Loeffler is older than Greenway on the Vikings roster and it has been a major transition for him. With veterans like Kevin Williams and Jared Allen gone, Greenway has become the greybeard of the defense – an unfamiliar role he is learning to adjust to.
“It’s definitely different,” Greenway said. “When I got here, we had a very deep veteran-oriented team with a bunch of guys who were 30-plus. That has a changed a lot over the years, not just with us, but the league in general. For me to be the oldest guy on the defense is pretty amazing. I’m proud of that fact. I’m looking forward to be a leader of this group and having guys look to me in tough situations.”
Greenway has come a long way from being the new kid on the block as a small-town kid from South Dakota via the University of Iowa. In fact, there was a time when was worried as to whether his NFL career would even get off the ground. On the third play of his rookie season (actually, preseason), Greenway tore his ACL on the punt coverage team and his entire rookie season was wiped out.
He knew he would be facing adversity at some point in his career, but not that early. However, he used that setback to learn the nuances of the NFL game and, in a strange way, he credits his early struggles with helping make him the player he has become.
“You always have your career and your mind and to have something like that happen in your first game was pretty devastating,” Greenway said. “I had to adjust on the fly. It was frustrating because I wanted to come in and contribute immediately, but I used that rehab time to study a lot of film and learn the little parts of the game. It wasn’t the situation I wanted, obviously, but that initial setback helped make me a smarter player.”
As all players do during their careers, they transform from being a young up-and-comer into a vested veteran. For him, that change came during the Brett Favre era of 2009-10. He was still a young player, but he noticed a change in himself that altered his role in the defense and his feelings about being more of a team leader.
“It was probably in Year Four or Five, somewhere in there,” Greenway said. “By that time, I was feeling comfortable with my position on the team – making plays and doing things right. It was about that time that I became more of a vocal leader. I didn’t do that early on, because we had so many veteran guys that had that role. I transitioned into that position of being a veteran and now I’m the old guy.”
Greenway has led the Vikings in tackles each of the past six seasons. If he can pull that off again this year, it will break Scott Studwell’s franchise record for most seasons leading the team.
In 2012, he was the first Vikings linebacker to earn All-Pro honors (second team) since Matt Blair in 1980, and was voted by his teammates as their defensive MVP in 2010, 2012 and 2013.
Greenway has started to prepare for life after football because he is acutely aware that NFL players have a short shelf life. It would seem as though that process has sped up since the last collective bargaining agreement was approved in 2011. The Vikings are far from being alone in the youth movement that is underway in the NFL and veterans like Greenway feel the pressure of maintaining a high level of play because there are younger players fighting to take their spots on the roster.
“When you think about where I’m at and put that in perspective – I’m in my ninth season – you think about it a lot more how blessed I’ve been to have the career I’ve had,” Greenway said. “With the changes that have taken place in the league since the new CBA took effect, it has really shifted the league into a much younger group. I’m just proud that I’ve been here nine years and the fact of the matter is that eventually it’s going to end. You can’t be ignorant to that fact. It’s just a matter of time.”
Although Greenway is realistic and candid about his career longevity, he was quick to point out that even though he is the old man of the Vikings defense, it isn’t time for a bugler to blow Taps on his career.
“I’m not ready to ride off in the sunset just yet,” Greenway said. “I think I’ve still got some good football left in me, but it does start to creep into the back of your mind that I’m closer to the end than I am to the beginning of my career. I’m still feeling good and I hope to ride it out as long as I can and be a leader for this team as we move forward.”
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.
Greenway reflects on being ‘the old guy’
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