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Is Greenway one of the best LBs to wear purple?

Minnesota Vikings linebacker and Mount Vernon native Chad Greenway talks with a coach during Tuesday morning’s walk-through on Minnesota State University-Mankato’s football field. (Luke Hagen/Republic)

MANKATO, Minn. — Paul Allen, the radio voice of the Minnesota Vikings, remembers Chad Greenway’s early days in the NFL. Allen started working as the team’s broadcaster in the 2002 season and has seen the majority of Greenway’s games.

“Chad’s very fast and very instinctive,” Allen said. “He’s a sure-tackling linebacker. Early in Chad’s career, they’d put a body on him and it took him a little longer to get off the block than he probably would have liked. But he’s gone through a lot and he’s grown up a lot in the NFL.”

This year’s training camp marks the start of Greenway’s eighth year as a professional. Within the last two years, the Mount Vernon native and 2006 first-round draft selection has started to get more recognition around the league, earning Pro Bowl accolades and other honors.

Earlier this year, the NFL Network announced he was ranked No. 70 among the 100 best players in the league, a poll that’s voted on among all the players. On Dec. 20, 2011, Greenway was mentioned as one of the 50 greatest Minnesota Vikings players of all time. He was one of 13 linebackers on the list.

During training camp earlier this week in Mankato, Minn., people from around the organization said Greenway not only deserves to be known as one of the best current Vikings players, but also as one of the best linebackers in Vikings history. And if the Mount Vernon native keeps up his current pace, he could eventually retire with statistics supporting his case for the best linebacker to ever wear Vikings’ purple.

The top three linebacking greats in the Vikings’ record books are Scott Studwell, Matt Blair and Jeff Siemon, the top-three tacklers in team history.

But another South Dakota native who played for the Vikings believes Greenway has already cemented himself in the team’s top tier.

“I definitely think he should be in the top three linebackers that have ever played (for the Vikings),” said Ben Leber, Greenway’s teammate from 2006 to 2010. “Without question, everyone understands his skill set and what he can do, but I think most importantly it’s how consistent he is.”

Greenway’s ability to bring down his opponent is the first thing that’s brought up when discussing his talents. He’s led the Vikings in tackles each of the past five seasons and was second in the NFL in the category last year.

Although tackles didn’t become an official NFL statistic until 2001, Studwell — who played for the Vikings from 1977 to 1990 — sets the bar for the team’s tackling records. He finished his 14-year career with 1,981 tackles, tops in franchise history. The team determined how many he recorded after his retirement by looking at old game film.

According to team records, which differ from NFL statistics, Greenway has 921 tackles in his career, putting him 1,060 away from Studwell’s record. Studwell also holds a team record for most tackles in one game, recording 24 in a November 1985 game against Detroit. Greenway’s single-game high, 22 in a November 2011 loss to Oakland, is second on the team all-time list.

He and Studwell are the only Vikings players in franchise history to lead the team in tackles for five or more seasons. With his career average of 153.5 tackles per season, Greenway could surpass Studwell in seven years for the team’s all-time tackles record.

Studwell started 161 of 201 games with Minnesota. He remains in the Vikings’ organization as the director of college scouting. The former ninth-round pick from Illinois is entering his 22nd year in the team’s player personnel department, and he entered the Vikings Ring of Honor in 2009.

“He was a phenomenal tackler,” Greenway said. “His longevity in the league and the way he played the game was amazing. He’s a guy I look to and respect a ton. He’s a guy that you can look to for some wisdom, whether it be on the football field or personally, because he’s been through a lot.”

Blair is second in Vikings franchise history with 1,452 tackles, leading Greenway by 531. A 1974 second-round Vikings draft pick, Blair is the only Minnesota linebacker ever to be named to the AP All-Pro first team. He played for the Vikings until 1985, starting 130 of 160 games played, and was named to six Pro Bowl teams.

Greenway was named to his second straight Pro Bowl last year and was an AP All-Pro second-team selection. In six years on the field, Greenway has recorded six interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries, both behind marks set by Studwell and Blair.

Greenway’s major attribute is tackling, but Vikings linebackers coach Mike Singletary, a former linebacker for the Chicago Bears, said Greenway’s diversity is what really makes him valuable.

“I think what he has that I really like is he has the ability to play the pass, play the run, he can blitz and he can do so many things,” said Singletary, a 1998 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee. “He’s not just a pass rusher and he’s not just a run stuffer. He is a guy that when the ball is snapped, you can count that he’s going to be around it and he doesn’t take plays off. That’s really big.”

For Greenway to move into the team’s top-three tacklers of all-time, he’ll need to pass Siemon, who leads him in the category by 454 tackles. Siemon played for the Vikings from 1972 to 1982 and, like Greenway, was a first-round selection. He finished with 1,382 career tackles and started 123 of 150 games he played, recording 11 career interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries. Greenway has started 95 of 96 games played and has six interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries.

Other linebackers who made the 50 greatest Vikings of all time are Jack Del Rio, Chris Doleman, Wally Hilgenberg, Ed McDaniel, Fred McNeill, E.J. Henderson, Mike Merriweather, Lonnie Warwick and Roy Winston.

Former Viking Chris Doleman, a 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, was also on the list of the 50 greatest players in franchise history, listed as a linebacker/defensive end. Doleman was drafted as a linebacker, but was moved to defensive end in his second season and finished his 15-year career as a pass rusher with 150.5 sacks.

Greenway still has three years left on the five-year, $41 million contract he signed in 2011. He said he hopes to finish his career a Viking. Although he was pleasantly surprised some already count him among the top linebackers in franchise history, his focus is to consistently improve each year.

“We’ve had some great linebackers and certainly a great tradition on defense in this organization,” Greenway said.

Added Allen: “You have some really good linebackers here in the history in the team, but I don’t think it’s fair to rank Chad’s legacy until you look at the full body of work and see everything he’s done.”