From rookie to leader

When Minnesota Vikings' linebacker E.J. Henderson injured his toes in a game against the Tennessee Titans in Week 4 and ended his season, the Vikings needed someone to take his place in terms of tackles and in terms of leadership.

Greenway led team in tackles in '08
AP Photo Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway celebrates after the Vikings stopped the Chicago Bears on four downs from the one-yard line during a game Sunday, Nov. 30, 2008, in Minneapolis. After finishing second on the team in tackles in 2007, Greenway, in his third year total with the Vikings and second actually playing, led Minnesota with 103 solo and 134 total tackles.

When Minnesota Vikings' linebacker E.J. Henderson injured his toes in a game against the Tennessee Titans in Week 4 and ended his season, the Vikings needed someone to take his place in terms of tackles and in terms of leadership.

Though only in his third year with the Vikings -- and in the NFL -- and only his second year playing, Chad Greenway filled that role and gave the Vikings' defense a go-to player.

Greenway, who grew up in Mount Vernon, led the Vikings in takeaways (six) and the entire NFL in fumble recoveries (four) during the 2007 season. Coaches -- current and former -- knew 2008 would be even better.

Norm Parker, the defensive coordinator at the University of Iowa and former linebackers coach for the Hawkeyes, coached Greenway throughout his four-year tenure at Iowa, "which was a pleasure," he said.

Parker said he follows Greenway's NFL career, and noticed improvements in his former pupil on the field this season.


"I'm sure that he just got used to the speed of the game and just being out there playing," Parker said last week in a phone interview from Iowa City, Iowa. "The defense was much more familiar to him and he didn't have to think as much."

Greenway's high school coach noticed an improvement from last year to this year as well. Myron Steffen, longtime Mount Vernon and Stickney/Mount Vernon football coach, led Greenway -- who played quarterback at the time -- and his teammates to back-to-back Class 9AA state titles in 1999 and 2000.

Steffen, now a defensive line coach at Dakota Wesleyan University, said Greenway's playmaking abilities visibly increased this season, which goes to show how much more comfortable Greenway is with playing at the NFL level this year.

"I think he's reached a point where the speed of the game is so much faster at every level you move up," Steffen said. "The game slowed down for him, so he's able to make plays more instinctively. I thought he had a very good year last year also, and this year even more so."

Greenway could not be reached for comment for this story. Through a Vikings PR spokesman, he declined to comment to The Daily Republic for a similar story request in November.

Greenway was a big reason the Vikings finished the season with the best run defense in the NFL and the sixth-best pass defense in the league. His improvements were not lost on his teammates.

"I just love watching him play," Greenway teammate and fellow South Dakota linebacker Ben Leber said in a Nov. 12 report in The Pioneer Press of St. Paul. "He flies around, and he never seems to get tired. He's kind of the Energizer Bunny of our defense."

Vikings coaches also noticed Greenway's quick transition from rookie to confident veteran.


"I was like, 'Whoa, he looks a lot quicker, he looks faster, he looks more sure of himself,' " Vikings' defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier told the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Aug. 27. "He's just more certain about what his role is and what he should be doing, and getting to that spot as quickly as possible."

Greenway started all 16 games in 2007, his first season of actually playing for the Vikings. He missed his rookie season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, suffered during the 2006 exhibition opener. The injury essentially made 2007 his rookie year and he made the most of it, finishing second on the team in tackles with 130.

In 2008, Greenway advanced his game even more.

Greenway and Henderson were neck-and-neck statistically when Henderson was hurt in the second quarter of the Titans' game. Henderson, in his sixth year with the Vikings, had 34 tackles -- including three for a loss -- one sack and one forced fumble. Greenway had, at the time, 26 tackles -- three for losses -- one sack and one forced fumble.

After Henderson's injury, Greenway became even more of a playmaker for the Vikings' defense. He led the team in solo (103) and total (134) tackles, had the third most sacks on the team (6) and had three fumble recoveries.

Parker said Greenway's success story is a tribute not only to the hard work he has put in, but also is a tribute to South Dakota and his hometown of Mount Vernon.

"I think it just goes to prove that good players and good athletes come from all over," he said. "They don't have to come from a big city. You never know where the great athlete's coming from. There's no question he's that kind of athlete. Once he got here, you could see he was as good an athlete as we've probably ever had.

"A player's a player, no matter where they come from."


Steffen said that coming from a small town in South Dakota and playing nine-man football, it was nearly impossible to predict Greenway would turn into an NFL force. He also said Greenway's success is the result of the hard work he puts into everything he does.

"He's a special player," Steffen said. "I'm happy he's done well. He was always very competitive and always wanted to do well. He worked very hard to achieve his goals and always had a good attitude."

Where do things go from here for Greenway?

"I think the sky's the limit for him," Parker said. "From everything I hear, he's sort of the faceplate of (Minnesota's) defense. Everybody up there's enthused, and he's enthused to be there. He's good for the team."

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