For much of his career, Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway has been forced into the shadows. As a first-round draft pick in 2006, his rookie season ended in the first quarter of the preseason, when he suffered a season-ending knee injury playing on the special teams coverage unit.
For all intents still an on-field rookie in 2007, Greenway struggled at times in his first season as a starter, but consistently flashed the ability that he could be something special. His development in 2008 was such that, despite several members of the Vikings defense being recognized for the Pro Bowl, there some talk about Greenway being denied.
In his third full season as a starter, Greenway has stepped up his game even higher and, after taking a back seat in terms of national recognition to players like Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Pat Williams and Antoine Winfield, Greenway stepped into the spotlight Sunday against Detroit, earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Greenway played a critical role in the Vikings' 27-13 win over Detroit. He stopped two drives with interceptions, recovered a fumble deep in Lions territory that led to a touchdown and, as Detroit made its last desperate attempt for a miracle comeback in the final two minutes, he recovered an onside kick and nearly took it the distance on the return. It was a big week and Greenway said he couldn't have been happier when he was told the news Tuesday – but didn't let it get to his head.
"It was cool because it's the first time that it's happened to me," Greenway said. "It's something you take pride in, but at the same time, when you play like our defense did in the first half, we're not really happy with that. We have to get back to work today. It's just Week 3, so we have a long way to go."
When asked if he saw it coming – as we noted after the game that somebody would have to put together a monster game on one of the nationally televised games to possibly beat him out – Greenway said it came as a surprise.
"I was never expecting it," Greenway said. "I was surprised when I got it because there are a lot of great players around the league that had great weeks. I was very humbled when I got it. It was a great experience."
While Greenway was modest, his teammates weren't anywhere near the same degree. Linebacker Ben Leber, one of the players who was most vocal about Greenway's omission from the Pro Bowl, said before the players even got on the plane to head back to Minnesota, a conversation between some of the coaches and players had them convinced Greenway couldn't be overlooked for what he accomplished.
"We were talking about that on the bus – if he didn't get it, there was some sort of conspiracy," Leber said. "I'm so proud of him. He deserves everything he gets. He had a heck of a game and he's going to have a heck of a season and a career."
Greenway said his maturation as a player has been a work in progress, but that he continues to see areas where can improve – he said he has agonized for three days over a missed tackle in the first half against Detroit that led to a relatively modest gain. He knows that, in the Tampa-2 defense, he and E.J. Henderson are the keys to making plays – either in run support or taking away the intermediate passing lanes. It's his job to step up and play at the level he did on Sunday.
"Typically in this defense, the (middle) and (strongside) linebackers are the ones it is built around," Greenway said. "You see Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher (in Chicago) and Derrick Brooks when he was in Tampa and you have to make plays in this defense. You have to make plays when they come your way."
Defensive end Jared Allen said he has seen the improvement in Greenway from when he arrived at the first minicamp in April 2008 to now. He said Greenway plays with passion and puts his body on the line to make plays. But, just as important, Allen said, he loves the game and being in the middle of it all.
"He just loves being out there and has fun," Allen said. "All of our linebackers just fly around and our front seven plays well together. Every week he just keeps getting better."
While Greenway may not be as familiar to the casual fan in other parts of the country, his contribution to the Vikings defense has been pronounced. Cornerback Cedric Griffin, the second-round pick of the Vikings the year Greenway was drafted, said his teammates have known for a long time that Greenway can be the type of defensive player that can make game-changing plays.
"Chad's a great player," Griffin said. "He's my (draft of 2006) classmate, I'm always going to give him praise. He's been doing a great job since he's been here. He's a smart player, he's physical, hit likes to hit and he's a ballhawk. He's got some of the best hands on the team."
His teammates weren't alone. Head coach Brad Childress said he's seen Greenway develop into an explosive player who is only scratching the surface of what he views as an extremely bright future.
"He's going to be a primary playmaker," Childress said. "We're going to feature him the same way that we have always featured him at that weak-side linebacker position. He's very good at it, whether it's stepping up on runs or going sideline-to-sideline. He's really grown from the beginning where everything was fast, where he understands the rhyme and the reason to what is going on."
As Sunday approaches, Greenway won't have much time to enjoy his accolades. His primary job will be to contain and corral Frank Gore – the NFC Offensive Player of the Week. It will be a chance for the conference's two hottest players to test their skills against one another – a challenge Greenway said he is looking forward to.
"We will all be seeing him on defense quite a bit, because of the way they give him the ball and the things he can do with it," Greenway said. "It will be a good matchup for us. Hopefully, we'll be good enough to stop it."
Greenway maturing into playmaker
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