Greenway Anticipates First Start

Linebacker Chad Greenway is trying to take some lessons from his first extensive preseason as well as advice from teammates as he prepares to make his first regular-season start in the NFL. See what he and fellow linebacker Ben Leber had to say about the process.

Chad Greenway's NFL career is really just about to get started after missing all of his rookie season when he tore his ACL in the first preseason game of 2006.

Greenway's first official start in the NFL is upon him Sunday, even though he has had parts of four preseason games to get used to playing in the NFL after a stellar college career at the University of Iowa. What he's noticed so far is that even preseason games are a step up from the collegiate ranks.

"Schematically, it's a little broader and obviously there are a few more things going on and the quality of players is a lot better," Greenway said when asked to compare NFL preseason games to the college competition he faced as part of the Big Ten. "But all in all, it's still football and it's just running and tackling."

So far, it hasn't overwhelmed him, but veteran linebacker Ben Leber points out that preseason contests in the NFL are a little different than regular-season games.

"Preseason is so vanilla, so you're seeing a lot more looks and you have to adjust on the fly (in the regular season)," Leber said. "I think that was the biggest thing for me as a rookie was just being able to decipher on the run what was going on."

Greenway has already shown that he is a fast linebacker, even by NFL standards, but timing fast on a stopwatch and playing fast on NFL gamedays are two different things. The speed of the professional game affects even the fastest of linebackers.

"It does because it affects your reads and the way you play your game – if a guard is pulling, a quick read, run-pass read, something like that can be affected by the speed of the game," Greenway said. "I got a good look at it in the first half of that Seattle game. That's kind of speed of the game we're going to be looking at."

Greenway said the playing experience he gained in the preseason should be helpful and he is looking to build on his performance of the last month. During that stretch, Greenway led the starting linebackers with nine tackles, but he's supposed to be one of the leading tacklers on the team as the weakside guy in the Vikings' Tampa-2 defense.

Last year, E.J. Henderson led the team with 142 tackles from that spot – which was 44 more tackles than anyone on defense. This year, Henderson has moved to middle linebacker to make room for Greenway, who says the communication between all the linebackers has been good so far.

Apparently, Greenway has sought out advice on making the transition to the regular season.

"He just asked me, ‘How's the tempo compared to the preseason?'" Leber said. "All I can say is it picks up a little bit, but he's got such a good grasp on football as a whole – he'll be just fine."

Greenway said earlier in the preseason that he might have been a little aggressive. Now, however, he said he doesn't need to guard against that.

"I think the preseason kind of got me back in the groove again as far as playing ball. I'm ready to go. I think I just have to settle in and play ball. I can't get too emotional. I've got good people around me," he said.

The Vikings will bring their full contingent of run-stuffing playmakers against the Atlanta Falcons in the regular-season opener on Sunday. Atlanta easily led the league in rushing in 2006. The Falcons had 2,939 yards rushing, almost 400 yards more than the nearest competitor (San Diego with 2,578). The Falcons' 5.5 yards-per-carry average was also a half yard more than any other team in the NFL.

But the Vikings were also best in the league defending against the run. They led the league by giving up only 985 net rushing yards. The Baltimore Ravens were the next closest with 1,214 yards yielded on the ground.

Even so, Greenway knows that a strong rush defense in 2006 doesn't automatically translate to instant success again in 2007.

"We know that last year stands on itself and this year will stand on its own as well," said Greenway, who said his 2006 knee injury is no longer a concern. "We have to go back to what we did last year – those guys did a great job flying around and team tackling. I think that's something we just want to feed off of from last year."

As a team, that's true. Personally, however, Greenway doesn't have regular-season game experience as part of his recall, and he'll have to avoid the feelings Leber had when he made his NFL start as a rookie in 2002.

"I was freaked out," Leber said. "I believe the game was against Cincinnati and it was hot. That's the one thing I thought about. Things were just flying around."

But if Greenway's production during his opening start is anything like Leber's, all should be fine. In that game at Cincinnati, Leber had a sack and forced a pair of fumbles that were recovered for touchdowns in a 34-6 win.

That would be the kind of production that both Greenway and the Vikings could handle if their season opener goes anything near that well.

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