Vikings’ Greenway finds niche, reinvents himself at linebacker



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    Chad Greenway could see all the change swirling around him. The dismissal of most of the Vikings’ coaching staff. The jettisoning of Jared Allen and Kevin Williams, two longtime teammates who were among the best players in recent franchise history. New faces. New schemes. A whole new identity.

    In his nine years with the Vikings, the veteran outside linebacker has grown accustomed to not getting accustomed to things. Such is life in the NFL. But he hadn’t experienced changes quite as sweeping as this, and he knew he could get swept up in it, too.

    Still, it stung when the Vikings, the only NFL team he has ever known, approached him in the offseason and told him to take a pay cut or take a walk. He had a choice — buy in or get out.

    “Obviously, at first you feel disrespected. You give so much to an organization and you feel like you’ve earned the right to continue to play at that contract you signed,” said Greenway, whose salary was reduced by $1 million this season to $5.5 million. “But the reality is that this business is a tough business. It’s certainly dog-eat-dog. So you just have to continue to swallow your pride and keep playing and not make it about yourself.

    “The only person who really cares about my ego is me. My family, my kids, nobody else does. It’s more about doing the right thing for my family, the right thing for this organization and the right thing for my career — and that was to stay here and start anew with this staff.”

    Trading $1 million for a sizable chip on his shoulder, Greenway showed up at Winter Park this spring eager to prove to Mike Zimmer’s coaching staff and the Vikings front office that he is still capable of playing at a high level. Greenway knows there are no guarantees beyond this season, but he is hopeful that playing in the new head coach’s aggressive defensive scheme will help rejuvenate his career.

    “I tried to make it a positive for me. A new staff, a new opportunity,” Greenway said. “The biggest thing is it’s going to become what I make of it. Just take it as an opportunity and learn something new and reinvigorate myself in my ninth season.”

    After the coaching staff experimented with Greenway at middle linebacker — a new position for him — in the base defense early in training camp, the Vikings slotted him in as their starting weakside linebacker. He stays on the field on passing downs, dropping into coverage or blitzing up the gut as one of the linebackers in Zimmer’s sub packages.

    “They went through a long vetting process of moving people around and trying to figure out what spots work best for the personnel they have here,” Greenway said. “I’ve slipped into this role that I have now and I’m just trying to make it mine and make it as good as possible.”

    His responsibilities are different in Zimmer’s defense compared to former head coach Leslie Frazier’s preferred Cover Two, in which Greenway often sat back in zone coverage and waited to pounce.

    Admiration of coach

    Greenway made two tackles in the 34-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams. And while one game, albeit a blowout win in the season opener, isn’t enough to conclude if Greenway can be a fit in Zimmer’s defense beyond 2014, the 31-year-old has drawn rave reviews for what he brings to the Vikings between Sundays.

    Greenway is the unquestioned leader of a young linebacker group that has five members under the age of 26. He’s the one they jockey to sit next to in team meetings. He’s the one who shares subtle observations on assignments, alignments and other nuances of the position. And tasked with being the lone defender with a radio in his headset on game day, he’s the one who gets the calls from Zimmer and gets the entire defense lined up before the snap.

    “Obviously, he’s had to learn some different things [since] we’ve been in here, but it’s great to have him in here because he’s able to help a lot of the younger guys,” said Zimmer, who remarked in May that he wished he had 90 players like Greenway. “We have a young football team totally on both sides of the ball, and I think it’s good to have some veteran leadership.”

    Looking to finish

    Greenway knows it will take more than intangibles to keep him in purple beyond this season.

    Greenway, whose 2014 salary of $5.5 million became guaranteed as part of his restructuring agreement, is scheduled to carry a cap hit of $8.8 million in 2015, with a base salary of $7 million. This is a league in which teams are always looking to get younger and cheaper, and the Vikings, who have one of the greenest rosters in the NFL, are certainly no exception.


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