Hartman: Chad Greenway still a steady force

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 4, 2012 - 9:08 PM
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Linebacker Chad Greenway has been a steady defensive presence for the Vikings since they made him in a first-round pick in 2006. He was rewarded with a five-year, $41 million contract, and is optimistic the team will improve this season.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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The Vikings had a lot of turnover at the linebacker position the past couple of years.

But one steady force at linebacker has been Chad Greenway, who signed a big five-year, $41 million contract last season. Greenway, 29, was the team's first-round draft choice in 2006, a great choice even though he missed his rookie season because of knee surgery. He has been very reliable since then, and made the Pro Bowl in January.

He likely will be starting alongside Erin Henderson and middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who replaces Henderson's brother E.J. as the Vikings go through a youth movement.

No doubt the great passers in the league like the Packers' Aaron Rodgers will test the Vikings linebackers. The Vikings, who were 3-13 last year, have to improve their defense, especially in the fourth quarter. Last year, the Vikings' overall pass defense was bad, even though the team led the league in sacks. Poor pass coverage was to blame, and the Vikings have taken a lot of steps to fix that problem.

Greenway is optimistic.

"It's a lot different, just because of the youth that we have on our team," he said during the team's training camp in Mankato this week. "We have so many young guys who haven't gone through training camps, and I think it's going to be important for us to remain focused and be consistent throughout training camp."

Greenway believes Erin Henderson had a great year in 2011, his first year as a starter.

"We have my experience coming back and then Jasper, who has been here for three years and is ready to step in and take that role as a starter," Greenway said.

Brinkley missed last season after hip surgery and is a big question this season.

"He has that talent, that ability and that want-to, so we're excited about what he's going to do," Greenway said. "I think he's going to be more than solid. We're excited about the talent that he has, and he just wants to be really good. He's working hard to do that. I think in a lot of ways we're going to be better than we've ever been at linebacker."

Griffen a key for new season

The Vikings coaches believe that Everson Griffen, in his third season with the club, can contribute at both defensive line and at linebacker. Griffin has enjoyed a great training camp.

The Southern Cal standout started to show a lot of improvement last year when he got an opportunity to play. If Griffen continues to get better, he could be a big plus to making the Viking defense a lot stronger.

One of the big defensive weaknesses for the Vikings last season was the failure of the linebackers to cover the opposing tight ends.

So if the Vikings are to improve, the linebacking play overall will have to be a lot better.

By the way, Greenway can't believe that most of the NFL experts are picking the Vikings to finish on the bottom of the division.

"It's just the way it is. People are going to pick us for that reason because we have so much youth and so much inexperience," he said. "But with the way we're out here practicing right now, we're going to give ourselves a chance to be a good team. You have to go out there and win the games and make the plays, but we're going to be better than people think.

"There is a great attitude, I think, just with the turnover of the personnel, and with all the young guys coming in, I think it gives you a chance to rebound and have a great season."

Roster issues for Gophers

One of the tough things Gophers football coach Jerry Kill and every other Division I head coach has to do is to keep the roster at 105 players until school starts, then the roster can grow to 120.

So some players can't participate in the summer drills.

"Everybody has to go through that," Kill said. "It's nothing you want to do as a coach, but it's the rules that the NCAA puts upon us.

"You have to look at it by position and how many you're bringing in at certain positions and what you want to do. As soon as you get an injury, you can bring another guy into camp. I've had guys in years past, a guy that didn't come into camp right off the bat, come in four or five days later and end up starting for us two or three games into the season.

"It's one of those things where you wish you could bring everybody in, but that's not the rules so we'll follow the rules and work through it."

JOTTINGS

A service celebrating the life of former Vikings General Manager Mike Lynn, who died last month in Oxford, Miss., will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Wayzata Community Church in Wayzata with a reception to follow at the Lafayette Country Club.

Twins CEO Jim Pohlad indicated the other day that the team desperately needs pitching and, contrary to past policy, will be in the market to sign some free agents before next season. However, Pohlad said the Twins will not be in the market for the very expensive free agents. The Twins payroll going into the 2013 season is $76 million. So they would have less than $24 million to add talent after some of the arbitration-eligible players get raises.

If the Twins had a winning team, this year's schedule of 16 home games in September would be ideal. But when you are struggling to stay out of last place, the gate will suffer even if a lot of tickets were sold earlier this season for the games in the season's final weeks. The Twins, incidentally, signed every one of their top 13 draft choices -- except No. 9, second baseman Lee Mazzilli, who is returning to college -- and spent $12.6 million to sign 27 draft picks.

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said one reason he has found a successor is for estate planning. "A couple of NBA team owners died without good estate planning, and I didn't want to make the same mistake."

The Twins have a $9.25 million option to sign pitcher Scott Baker, who underwent Tommy John surgery and hasn't pitched all year. "I just saw Baker. He's still rehabbing and doing fine," said Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, who watched Baker in Fort Myers, Fla. "You don't have to worry about Baker because he's a good hard worker." Ryan said a decision on whether to pick up Baker's option won't be made for quite some time.

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