Minnesota Vikings: Greenway's at the top of his game

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ben Leber describes Chad Greenway as a "goofball" who provides comedic relief in the Minnesota Vikings linebackers' meeting room. "I don't think he ever shuts up," Leber said.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ben Leber describes Chad Greenway as a "goofball" who provides comedic relief in the Minnesota Vikings linebackers' meeting room. "I don't think he ever shuts up," Leber said.

And Greenway's long hair? "It gives him power like Samson," Leber said. "That sucker is long now."

Greenway doesn't disagree on either account. He admits to being a class clown, and he seems pretty proud of his flowing locks. "I've got good helmet flow," he said.

But ask Greenway to discuss his stellar play this season and whether he should be included in Pro Bowl discussion, and he looks like a guy who just sat down for a double root canal without a shot of novocaine.

Even under ideal circumstances, Greenway would prefer to scrub toilets with his toothbrush than delve in-depth into his personal success. That's never been his style. His conversations almost always revolve around team. And with the Vikings at 3-5 and trying to dig out of a deep hole, Greenway felt especially uncomfortable talking about himself, which required some prodding.


"I feel like for the most part I've consistently played at a high level," he said. "Team success comes first, but I think to this point I'm playing my best football."

Internally, the Vikings believe Greenway is playing at an elite level and ranks among the top outside linebackers in the NFC. He leads the NFC and ranks second in the NFL in total tackles with 83, according to league statistics. He also has a team-high seven tackles for loss and has led the Vikings in tackles five times this season.

"Chad is ballin'," safety Husain Abdullah said.

Pride of the Purple

In a random survey in the locker room this past week, several starters picked Greenway as the team's first-half defensive MVP and campaigned for him to earn his first Pro Bowl invitation.

"Every year he's gotten dramatically better," said Leber, his close friend and former roommate at training camp and on road games. "Every year he keeps building and building. Hopefully this is the year we can get him to Hawaii."

Said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier: "He is a Pro Bowl linebacker. His ability to run with tight ends, to make the big plays that he's making now. If he can continue to come up with some turnovers that will be the next step for him. From a linebacker standpoint, he is doing everything you could ask of a linebacker. To me he is a Pro Bowl linebacker."

Greenway is positioned for a huge payday. The former first-round pick from Iowa is in the final year of his rookie deal, which pays him roughly $3 million this season. With the uncertainty surrounding the labor situation, the Vikings did not give Greenway a contract extension, and he's headed toward free agency.


"In this league, you're always playing for your future," he said. "The reality is we get paid for what we do and if you're playing at a certain level you expect to be paid at a certain level. But at the same time, I'm not concerned about that right now. I'm worried about how can we get that fourth win."

Greenway said he refused to allow any frustration about his contract situation to affect his play or attitude.

"I've had a ton of talks with my wife (Jenni) just so we're on the same page," he said. "If you go into a season angry and disputing things that are happening that you can't control, you're only going to take away from yourself. It's not something I'm going to think about until it's time to think about it. If I take care of my business and play the way I'm capable of, things will take care of themselves."

Stat man

Greenway led all NFL linebackers in takeaways last season with six -- three interceptions, three fumble recoveries. He led the Vikings in tackles the past two seasons. But he's played even better this season, notably in pass coverage. He looks comfortable covering tight ends down the field, which wasn't always the case in recent seasons. He said that is simply the product of experience and maturing as a player.

"I'm a lot more confident in matchups if I'm playing man coverage or breaking better in zones," he said.

Greenway's game is predicated on being aggressive and attacking the ball carrier. He has all the physical tools and necessary instincts required of that position, and he's ultra-competitive. It was just a matter of melding those things together.

"Chad's not having to think out there anymore," defensive end Jared Allen said. "He's just all over the field. He flies around, he makes plays, and he's one of the key leaders of this defense."


Step by step

It's been more of a gradual evolution than overnight emergence. Greenway has played a little bit better each season, a steady climb marked by improvement that's not always easily quantified.

"The game has slowed down for him," linebackers coach Fred Pagac said. "He's seeing things happen a lot easier now. He's studied the game and he has more anticipation, more knowledge of the game, what's going to happen, where people are trying to attack us. He's become the total player."

A Pro Bowl player? The Vikings think so, even at a position as stacked as linebacker. Leber said one hurdle is that outside linebackers in 3-4 defenses often compile high sack totals because they play a hybrid pass rusher role. He mentioned Green Bay's Clay Matthews, Dallas' DeMarcus Ware and Washington's Brian Orakpo as examples.

"A guy like Chad can rush, he can drop, he can cover guys man to man, he can fit up in the run game," Leber said. "It's unfortunate that guys like him don't get the proper recognition because of the other guys they are competing against."

A goal in mind

Greenway, who said he views Bears Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs as his "measuring stick," acknowledged that earning a Pro Bowl trip was one of his goals this season.

"There's no question that at the end of the year if you had a good year and you've strung a few good years together that you hope to earn that respect and be able to go there," he said. "Team success always comes first. But that's something as a player, you look back at your career and say, 'Hey, I was a really good player.' If you get that Pro Bowl, people say, 'He's a Pro Bowl linebacker.' There are a lot of guys who haven't made it who have played at a high level. Look at Antoine (Winfield). It took him 10 years to get there and he's been a great player his whole career. I look at it as, just keep playing consistently and hopefully I'll make it."


He hopes it happens in a Vikings uniform. Greenway, who grew up in South Dakota, has made the Twin Cities his year-round home with Jenni and their two daughters, ages 3 and three months. The Greenways are involved in numerous charities through his Lead The Way Foundation with a focus on helping pediatric cancer patients. He feels settled on and off the field.

"In a perfect world, things would be taken care of and you'll be here for another five or six years and make your home here," he said. "But we realize and understand that the NFL is a business and you never know what's going to happen."

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