Craig: Greenway grows into mastering tackling's lost art

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 1, 2013 - 10:53 PM

The Vikings LB doesn't draw attention (or fines) for big hits; he just gets 'em down.


Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Chad Greenway.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Picking your favorite tackle of the season isn't easy when there are 184 from which to choose. But when you're the reigning Korey Stringer Good Guy Award winner, you specialize in humoring reporters.

"My favorite tackle," says Vikings strong-side linebacker Chad Greenway, "has to be the one on Alex Smith in Week 3."

Greenway picked a first-quarter sack that forced San Francisco to punt on its first possession after the Vikings had taken a 7-0 lead. Call it one of the first drops of Miracle-Gro on the tiny seed of Purple hope that has blossomed into Saturday night's unlikely wild-card playoff game against the Packers at Lambeau Field.

"It's not just because it was a sack," Greenway said. "It was the time of the game. It was a third down. It got everybody fired up and helped us fight those guys off and get a win that showed we can compete with teams like that."

It also helped illustrate the kind of tackler Greenway is at a time when far too many of his NFL peers aren't.

Smith was rolling to his right. Greenway was shadowing when he suddenly charged so quickly that Smith didn't have time to throw the ball away.

When Greenway arrived at the point of contact, his head was up and his eyes open. He placed his head to the side, wrapped up and drove his legs through initial contact. In other words, it was the kind of NFL tackle you'll never see on SportsCenter.

"Too many players today are out of control before contact," said Scott Studwell, former Vikings linebacker and the team's current director of college scouting. "Some players are always looking for the big hit. Chad's a sound tackler because he's a good athlete. He's not out of position, not out of control."

From 1977 to 1990, Studwell set franchise records for tackles in a career (1,928), a season (230) and a game (24, two more than Greenway).

"Stud," said Greenway, shaking his head. "His statistics are ridiculous. That career record most likely is out the window."

There is one Studwell record that might be within Greenway's grasp: consecutive seasons leading the team in tackles. Studwell did it six consecutive seasons from 1980-85. Greenway has now done it five years in a row, outdistancing rookie safety Harrison Smith by 61 tackles to break a second-place tie with Rip Hawkins (1961 to 1964).

"When you look at Chad's career," said Studwell, "he's gotten better and more productive every year since he injured his knee as a rookie."

Adrian Peterson just had the best NFL regular season ever for a guy with a rebuilt knee (and maybe anyone with two unscarred knees as well). But we forget that Greenway's remarkable return from the same injury in the 2006 preseason served as part of the inspiration for Peterson to come back better than he was before.

Greenway has 914 career tackles. The 184 he had this season are a career high that came while playing 920 out of a possible 929 snaps.

Tackles aren't an official NFL statistic, so numbers vary. Teams compile a more comprehensive number based on coaches' film review, while the league uses the game-day accounts from press box observers. The latter credited Greenway with 148 tackles, third most in the league behind Panthers rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly (164) and 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman (149).

"There are just some guys who have the knack," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "And Chad's one of them."

Studwell can talk all day about the fundamentals of tackling. But he reached the point on Tuesday when he paused, looked up and simply said, "Tackling is about 10 percent technique and about 90 percent effort and heart."

Studwell also said players today have it harder when it comes to tackling. Less contact in fewer practices at the pro and college levels, more emphasis on forcing turnovers and the number of fines and penalties for hard hits are creating an atmosphere for sloppy tackling, he said.

"I think they're over- regulating a very physical game," Studwell said. "Guys are probably pulling up a little bit more than they used to just because they don't want to get fined, they don't want to get flagged. That's hard to do."

Greenway doesn't really care how the ball-carrier goes down, just as long as the play ends ASAP.

"I would say I'm a good 'wrap tackler,'" Greenway said. "There's something we call 'Gator Rolling.' Sometimes, when you got them wrapped around their legs or waist, you just spin your body so they can't continue to run. You just keep twisting them until they fall down."

That's the idea.

Mark Craig •

  • related content

  • Chart: NFL's leading tacklers

    Tuesday January 1, 2013

    The league leaders, according to (Vikings team stats credit Greenway with 184):

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