When Rick Spielman was hired to be the general manager of the Vikings, his first draft was in 2006, and when the Vikings were on the clock there was no question who Spielman wanted – linebacker Chad Greenway.
Now Greenway is entering his 10th season as a centerpiece of the Vikings defense and he is at training camp for what might be the last time in his professional career.
While his spot on the roster isn’t in jeopardy, some things don’t change, whether you’re an undrafted rookie or a vested veteran. Training camp is about getting your body into football shape and doing the little things to prepare for the coming season. That is a process that hasn’t changed for Greenway over the years.
“For me, it’s about physically getting ready to play,” Greenway said. “You can work out and do all the things you want to do, but this is where you get ready to play football. It’s getting your eyes looking in the right place, picking up your reads, getting your footwork right – that sort of thing. It’s a process so that, by the second or third playoff game, you’re ready to go and it’s just a waiting game from there.”
Some things have changed, however. When he was younger, Greenway found it easy to get over the aches and pains of the rigors of a season and start the process of building his body back up. Now he’s looking at the preseason as a precursor to maintaining his body so he will be 100 percent by the start of the of the regular season.
“Being that I’m entering my 10th year, it’s mostly about being able to recover and getting to the regular season healthy and ready to go,” Greenway said. “At the same point, it’s important to practice hard, play hard so earn your spot and you’re ready to go when the season begins.”
Part of that preparation is to take things a little slower. Greenway used to start conditioning and working out in mid-February. Now he pushes that back an extra month or so and starts the process slower and builds up gradually during the offseason.
It is a trick he has learned from other veteran players – not overdoing the workout process when there is little to be gained from it. The goal is to time it out so that, when he starts hitting his workouts at full steam, by the time he gets to the end of the preseason, he will be peaking at the right time.
“You just have to be smarter about it,” Greenway said. “I don’t work nearly as hard as I used to early on after the season is over. I give myself time to fully recover all the way out. That was especially true last year as I was dealing with the injured ribs and everything else I had going on with little injuries. That was the first time in almost eight years, so I let my body heal up and went hard at it when I got back to it and I’ve been feeling great ever since.”
One of the downsides of being a long-term NFL player is that you make friendships with players who become like family. No two teams are identical because rosters are fluid and constantly changing and there isn’t always room for friendship.
In the business of football, players come and go, but Greenway said he is happy that he ended up with an organization that shows loyalty to players who perform and keep them in the family for a long time.
“It’s tough losing teammates, but we always seem to find a way to mesh with the new guys coming in,” Greenway said. “We all think alike and come in with the same thought process about competing. It is hard to see guys that are some of your best friends go that you’ve spent three, four, five years with, but that’s how this business works. It’s a rare occurrence when you have teammates for seven or eight years. But we’ve had that with Adrian (Peterson), Brian (Robison), Phil (Loadholt), John Sullivan. It’s a rarity, but something this organization does a good job of doing.”
As he enters the twilight of his career, Greenway knows that his number will come up soon. It may be this year. It may be next year. But, it is coming. The Vikings know it. Greenway knows it. It’s a scenario that plays out every year for all 32 teams in the NFL.
But Greenway feels the young core of the Vikings team has the potential to have the same kind of career that he has had – playing a decade with the team that drafted them and have a long career with the Vikings. He’s lived out that dream and expects a lot of the teammates who are several years younger than him will repeat that process.
“I think it’s a credit to what Rick is trying to do here – draft his guys and, if they live up to what they were expected to, then you re-sign them,” Greenway said. “It’s nice to have that to keep some continuity because a lot of organizations aren’t like that. I feel blessed that I’ve been able to spend my entire career with the Vikings and have had stability for my family without having to uproot them and move to a new city. It’s been something I’ve appreciated and, when I’m gone, I’m sure there will be guys ready to take my place and keep that continuity.”
Recovery, continuity keys for Greenway
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